Tuesday, 9 June 2020

The Far Tower: Stories for W.B. Yeats

Mark Valentine - The Far Tower (Swan River Press)
photo by Brian J. Showers
Mark Valentine (editor)
Swan River Press

"All Art that is not mere story-telling, or mere portraiture, is symbolic . . . " – W. B. Yeats

Stories of magic and myth, folklore and fairy traditions, the occult and the outrĂ©, inspired by the rich mystical world of Ireland’s greatest poet, W. B. Yeats. We invited ten contemporary writers to celebrate Yeats’s contributions to the history of the fantastic and supernatural in literature, drawing on his work for their own new and original tales. Each has chosen a phrase from his poems, plays, stories, or essays to herald their own explorations in the esoteric. Alongside their own powerful qualities, the pieces here testify to the continuing resonance of Yeats’s vision in our own time, that deep understanding of the meshing of two worlds and the talismans of old magic.

Poet and mystic W.B. Yeats was a key figure in Irish literature and his poetry has retained it's place at the heart of the discipline with its mystical nature providing an inspiration on all those featured here.

Editor Mark Valentine has compiled this companion piece to Swan River's recent Oscar Wilde volume and invited various authors to contribute.  Amongst them we find familiar names such as Ron Weighell who tells a tale of a Yeats scholar who unlocks a hidden spell and finds himself in a torrid love affair with a beautiful and enigmatic woman, John Howard who finds inspiration in the moon as seen from atop a tower and Reggie Oliver whose melodramatic and farcical tale is perfectly suited to the seaside actors and charlatans he peoples his tale with.

Alongside them we find D.P. Watt with an intriguing tale of visions from elsewhere and Rosanne Rabinowitz continues that theme as an old friend of the poet is 'visited' from beyond the grave.  Caitriona Lally's tale of the problems with a self sufficient hermit-like existence was fun but a little insubstantial whilst Timothy J. Jarvis maintains a galloping pace with his fairy tale like story of the poets remains and the influence they exert.

I must admit my previous exposure to Derek John's writing, in 'The Pale Illuminations', hadn't blown me away but his story here of an unwelcome spirit at a seance was a lot of fun.  Lynda Rucker provides a nicely enigmatic tale of a world on the verge of catastrophe that felt almost too relevant as I'm sat here unable to leave the house due to the coronavirus and the book ends with Nina Antonia's exploration of the role of Yeats' relationship with the fairy folklore of Ireland and it's place in his work.

With a couple of exceptions I've never been much of a poetry buff and so my knowledge of and exposure to Yeats is very limited, barely more than knowing that The Waterboys used his words in a song, but the stories here have left me intrigued.  It's an excellent read that will, I think, prove a tantalising aperitif to newcomers like me and also a satisfying digestif for those who have a more experienced palette for the poet's offerings.

'The Far Tower' is available from the publisher at the link above (tell them Wyrd Britain sent you)

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