Peter Fallon, a self-described “country boy,” loves corny country music. A poet, editor, and publisher Fallon read a number of his poems that explore country life last night as part of the Lowell Humanities Series. He was previously a Burns Library Visiting scholar at Boston College, and he has also spent time as an administrator at Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass. Many of his writings focus on agrarian life in Ireland and draw on his experiences growing up on a farm in the Irish midlands.
Although he writes about seemingly simple, everyday things, he is highly educated and accomplished, having graduated from Trinity College in Dublin where he is an adjunct professor. He founded The Gallery Press at 18 and went on to edit and publish 500 books of poems and plays by writers like Seamus Heaney.
Last night, he read his poem “New Country,” which deals with love. Many of his poems are inspired by life on the farm, such as “Law,” which he explains refers to the law that was passed when he was a child that stated that bulls must be “skulled,” meaning de-horned, if they were to be taken in public to the marketplace. The poem is graphic and violent, and then it shifts to “the latest slaughter” in Iraq—he describes a picture of a young boy there who has been “skulled” and has half of a head. Significant, of course, is his being a witness to “The Troubles” in Ireland and writing about violence, both in terms of everyday life and larger historical events. One of his works, News of the World: Selected and New Poems, The Georgics of Virgil, is a translation of Virgil’s poems about agrarian life.
Like Virgil, Fallon and other contemporary Irish poets like Heaney write about rural life, not in a simple, romantic or idealized way, but in context of the tensions and violence of civil war. Virgil composed “Georgics” during a time of political upheaval and instability just as these and other Irish poets wrote during a time of internal conflict in their own country.
Fallon explained that this poetry was inspiring because it was about everyday, familiar things like planting and animal husbandry. The late Heaney, a personal friend of Fallon’s, is also known for his focus on life on the farm, drawing inspiration from local events and language.
When asked about Heaney’s love of the poet Patrick Kavanagh’s writings about similar topics, Fallon explained that Kavanagh’s writings show Heaney how one can have “ordinariness of subject matter” and “trust in local places, venture into material that didn’t appear literary.”
Fallon’s own poetry exhibits this, showing his skill as a poet by turning widely experienced events into personally significant ones such as “A Summer Flood,” which is about parenting and watching one’s children make their own way in the world.
Common topics for many of his later poems are time, winter, and aging. He draws heavily on personal experience, saying that many of the people and places in his poems actually exist.