‘Iron hopeless sorrow’ is the overarching tone of Constanza, the new poetry collection from poet and critic Robert Anthony Welch, written in the aftermath of the accidental death of his 26-year-old son  Egan three years ago.

The collection of 40 poems represents the poet’s deeply personal reflections and meditation on the loss of his son in particular, and mortality in general.

Constanza, published by Lagan Press, with support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, is named after a city in Romania on the Black Sea, once known as Tomis.

Welch explains:  “I had been reading a Latin poet called Ovid, a book of his with the wonderful title Tristia, meaning something like ‘sadnesses’. It is a book of poems lamenting the fact that the poet, Ovid, has been banished from Rome for some offence he has caused the Emperor. This exile from Rome is like an exile from life, so that Ovid, in his grief in exile, is a man cut off from all that he loves.

“He is sent to a place called Tomis, now known as Constanza. The mood of Ovid in his bleak exile seemed to match my own mood in my grief, and I worked on some of his poems translating their sadness into my own.

“In doing this I hope that I widened my grief by taking it into another person’s life, another time. When I read Ovid’s description of what it was like to sail through the storms and heavy seas on the way to Tomis, it seemed very like what it was like to go through the sheer mass and bulk of the sorrow you feel at the death of someone you love beyond speech or saying.”

The reference to ‘iron sorrow’ comes from a poem called Lost to Those Waters, where the sense of loss is palpable and immense –

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.

Bob Welch
Poet, Bob Welch

Welch is relentless in his need to address his pain and that of his family, with the result that his work directly makes the reader feel and mourn for his or her own loss and grief.

This finely crafted and reworked unburdening, the ‘improvement of truth’ which poetry essentially represents, is what Welch believes is the job of a poet.

“There is no hiding place from sorrow or tragedy.  This is what poets try to do, otherwise they are not poets. We must write as truthfully as we can about what scares the bejaysus out of us. We must face the terror of what it is to be us lot,” added Welch.

While writing the poems undoubtedly had a therapeutic effect, Welch was conscious of his role as poet.

“If the work is true, then you need to move out of your own particular circumstance, otherwise you are just howling away in the prison of your ego, and you will lose your audience.”

Some of the poems, for instance The Track in Sun, flowed out of the poet, but most of the others were reworked many times, with The Binary being the poet’s more favoured as he believes he most successfully captures his son’s humour and fierce intelligence.

There will be a reading from Constanza on Tuesday, June 22, at a reception in the University of Ulster’s Coleraine Campus (Room H215) from 6.30pm with an introduction from poet Ciaran Carson and on Wednesday, June 23, at the Members’ Room, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin from 6pm with an introduction from poet Anthony Cronin and reading from the actor Richard Dormer, Welch’s son-in-law.

Constanza is priced at £8.99 and is available from all good book shops and on line from the publisher Lagan Press at www.lagan-press.org.uk.