Martin Mooney was born in Belfast to parents of a mixed religious background, and grew up in Newtownards. He studied English and Philosophy at Queen’s University, Belfast. His first collection, Grub (Blackstaff Press, 1993), won the Brendan Behan Memorial Award and was made a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, as well as being shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. He has published two more collections, Rasputin and his Children (2001, republished 2003 by Lagan Press) and Blue Lamp Disco (Lagan Press, 2003).
In an interview with John Brown published in In the Chair, Interviews with Poets from the North of Ireland (Salmon Publishing, 2002), Martin Mooney describes his evolving sense of a writerly language: “Later, trying to write, you become aware of those eighteenth century values of decorum, of tone and manner – which I admire – but we’re now at a point, possibly similar to America of two hundred years ago, where we can synthesise a new kind of English that’s not just a matter of restricting yourself to fine feelings in fine words. All kinds of registers, languages and different discourses are floating around us. Internet jargon, Ulster-Scots and Irish.”
And one of the first things to strike you about Martin Mooney’s poetry is how protean it can be, both in subject matter and style. From the cold account of a missing youth in ‘The Lost Apprentice’ (“When we found his gear / his new tools had rusted, but the bubble of air / in his spirit level was where it should have been, / his milk-and-sugared tea was warm in his thermos”), to the peculiar degredations of ‘Modern Primitives’, to laments for children (both living and dead), we see a sensibility equally alert to violence and tenderness. When these two come together, as in the poem ‘In the Parlour’, the effect is unforgettable.
Both ‘Carrick Revisited’ and ‘Homage to Vauban’ are part of a longer sequence entitled ‘Operation Sandcastle’ at the end of Rasputin and his Children. Set along the shores of Belfast Lough and North Antrim, the poem explores the implications of Britain’s dumping of what would now be called weapons of mass destruction in the Irish Sea at the end of the Second World War. In ‘Carrick Revisited’, a Norman town on the shores of Belfast Lough, we are stalled inside a political peace process going nowhere. The two wars merge, the older conflict with our own, and the ironic hope is articulated that an end to both will be realised in a new era of ‘demilitarised children.’
Mooney has the ability to forge a language unique to the subject matter of particular poems. In ‘Neanderthal Funeral’ the speaker is too stunned by loss to speak in coherently punctuated sentences, or even to know where he/she is at the moment of utterance (“lets call it carryduff lets call it mountstewart”). We are in a strange no-where, suspended between the ice-age, and the age of plastic carrier bags, so that dislocation becomes a feature of every aspect of the poem’s functioning. The poem’s subject is the freezing inarticulacy of grief itself.
Gritty, disturbing, often uncomfortable, terse, controlled, aggressive, lyrical, Martin Mooney, at his best, extends the boundaries of what is and is not appropriate subject matter for poetry. He takes pleasure in unsettling that sense of linguistic ‘decorum’ referred to above, and leaves us the richer for it.
Grub Blackstaff Press, Belfast 1993
Rasputin and his Children Lagan Press, Belfast 2001
Blue Lamp Disco Lagan Press, Belfast 2003)
Black Mountain review
Greer - short story by Martin Mooney
Culture Northern Ireland
Article on Martin Mooney from Culture Northern Ireland
Interviews with Northern Irish poets - including Martin Mooney