Iron sorrow wrung his poor
exhausted heart, drove a shockwave
from his stomach to his eyes all
full of tears. He opened wide his arms
to hold his mother, found
she was the river.
- from 'Lost to Those Waters'
Written in the aftermath of the death of his son, Egan, in 2007, Robert Welch's
Constanza is a sustained meditation on loss and mortality.
The painful candour of the poems is balanced by an inherent artistic tact to
produce a collection which is both formal, yet attentive to the pain of sorrow.
Colouring the poems is the figure of Ovid in exile - himself in mourning for
a life he feels has left him behind; Ovid's voice permeates the tone of the
collection and Welch produces a re-imagining of the poet's exile in Tomis, on
the outer reaches of the empire (modern day Constanza in Romania) and a re-
working of some of the Roman poet's elegies to produce a work of imaginative
flux where past and present engage in an affecting dialogue.
While the loss of Egan remains central to the collection, Welch broadens his
reveries into the loss of friends, mentors, colleagues and figures of public
Eschewing sentimentality, the elegies of Constanza are not only moving but
teeming with vitality and life.
Robert Welch was born in Cork and educated there and at Leeds
University. He was Dean of Arts at the University of Ulster,
where he is now Professor Emeritus of English. He has published
poetry, fiction, criticism and drama. He has written four previous
volumes of poetry, the last of which, The Evergreen Road, was
published by Lagan Press in 2006. He is the editor of the Oxford
Companion to Irish Literature. A play, Protestants, was produced in 2004.