European poet Rye Aker arrived in Galway earlier this year to document the city’s year as European Capital of Culture.
It was a commission that excited him, but as he was soon to find out, he was set for the most dramatic year imaginable.
His poetry of those events and of his life in lockdown made international news in 2020 and elevated him to the status of de facto lockdown poet laureate for Ireland.
With just a handful of friends in the western city, the affable wordsmith threw himself into Irish society and documented a country battling with itself at a time of crisis.
He gathered Irish expressions and sayings and built them into his unique poetry to plug into the heart of a nation.
His take on Irish practices and tradition brought laughter and melancholy to a nation coming to terms with the reality of a life interrupted.
With a keen ear honed from a lifetime of travelling the world, and from a willingness to tap into conversations in cafes, parks and even churches, he has compiled a body of work that gives an eerily thought-provoking picture of Irish life at this time.
No collection of modern Irish poetry is complete without a copy of A Penance of Sundays.
Aker’s ability to write it as he saw it grew him an army of followers on social media, with his work being read and recited by diplomats, actors, sports stars, and celebrities, with the universality of his topics hitting people in the feels worldwide.
Poems like The Missing Time, A Penance of Sundays, The Last Loaf In Lidl, and The Only Avocado In Recess featured in international media and made the likeable Dutchman an icon of the lockdown.
At the same time as all of this was happening, Galway’s designation as a Capital of Culture hit a series of obstacles, with issues both natural and man-made.
With his unofficial status as the Galway 2020 poet, Aker was increasingly seen as the one bright light in place of a programme that had been decimated by cancellation.
Through this time, Aker kept to himself, shunning contact and socialising only with a close circle of friends.
In this wonderful collection, written over a period of just seven months, he has managed to add to the canon of great Irish poetry, by focusing on the vulnerability of humankind.