It doesn’t seem like a year has passed since the last ‘Stony Thursday Book’ appeared! Nevertheless, it’s that time of year again and this annual collection of contemporary poetry has arrived in the post. This anthology has been very kind to me over the years and I am very gratified to be included once again in this 40th anniversary edition, edited by Mary O’Donnell.
There are 138 poems here, and many illustrious names, including Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Macdara Woods, Kevin Higgins and Fred Johnson, to mention just a few. So it is that, with such a welter of talent on display, I must confine myself in this brief review to those poems which appealed strongly to me personally.
I liked Graham Allen’s ‘Divorce’ (p.5), with its searing sense of despair. I would be surprised to find that this poem was not based on actual experience: ‘Somewhere in a trail of grey dust / lie all the stories you thought you had secured.’
‘The Request’ (p.17) by Geraldine Mitchell is a short poem with great impact. A disadvantaged student asks the poet to allow him (her?) a pass in a final exam. But the request is fraught with difficulty because although it is really ‘A small request’ , the poet is caught in a dilemma. ‘I have a home, / a job, firm ground beneath my feet./Surely not too much to ask?’ A decision has to be made. Crucially (for the poem), we are not told of the decision. It is a tribute to the poem that it is impossible to give an adequate idea of it in prose.
Patrick Deeley’s ‘Cleft in Metal’ (p.56) displays his ever-present gift for a keen observation of nature’s little-r people, Kingfishers, otters and vixens have populated some recent poems. Here we have the wren, worried about her nest being too near a chainsaw’s blade: ‘The wren’s headache is to get her little brood / out alive. Out of a cleft in the band-saw’s metal jaw, / away beyond the saw-teeth’s seething spin.’ I have written elsewhere about ‘bird-poems’ (see my review of the recent Boyne Berries 18) and how they can often be annoyingly ‘cutesy’ but this one does not fall into that category. It puts me in mind of the many ’empiricist’ nature poems of Eamon Grennan.
Several other poems caught my attention. For instance: ‘Ouija’ by Brian Kirk (p.99), a poem which has much to do with the loss of innocence; and Michael Farry’s ‘Swordswoman’ (p.152), a poem that keeps the reader on edge (no pun intended!) and at the same time has a dash of humour – a strange combination that works very well.
Opposite a fine poem by Mary Melvin Geoghegan on p.66 (‘Ten Years to
Pluto’) you will find my ‘River after Rains’, a poem written after my many years of trying to pluck out the heart of the mystery of the River Griffeen which flows through a park near me. Sometimes I’ve come close, but most times…
River after Rains
“…there is nothing with which it compares.
Tell me, how can I explain?” (Hanshan, trans. Robert Henricks)
Another fine issue of Boyne Berries from the Boyne Writers’ Group, which was founded in 2006 and meets twice monthly in the Castle Arch Hotel in Trim, Co. Meath. In this poetry business, where magazines come and go, to be heading for your 10th anniversary is no mean achievement!
Issue 18 was edited by Orla Fay who again has done a fine job of work. Well, I would say that wouldn’t I, since she has included one of my poems?— But there are many other poems which justify this praise. The book’s cover features a blackbird, and the first poem is entitled ‘Too Many Bird Poems’ by Paddy Halligan and he never spoke a truer word or wrote a truer poem. I am so tired of swallow poems and swan poems and other sorts of cutesy bird poems that I’m afraid to go out into the garden in case I end up writing one. There is course a long tradition of great ‘bird’ poems – Think of Shelley’s wonderful ‘To a Skylark’ with the great
“We look before and after
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”
However, I understand Paddy’s irritation at some of the ‘bird’ poems that find their way into print. It just seems too easy sometimes. I love his last two lines:
“I may even make an allusion to Peresphone
To keep the others happy, and not a lonndubh in sight.”
A very enjoyable, humorous poem. A poem that says something that needed to be said!
Another poem I really liked was Adrienne Leavy’s ‘Death of a Cowboy’. This is a lament for a family member, lightened somewhat by references to the iconography of the Cinema Western. Probably this was the favourite genre of the lamented one. Anyway, a lament is always the more poignant when it is not overwhelmingly full of grief. The balance is hard to strike but Adrienne manages it well in this fine poem:
“Now we find ourselves thinking, how did Death come to you—
did it happen quickly, like a hero in a John Ford western,
or were you riding towards oblivion for a long time.”
I have heard Anne Tannam reading her work many’s the time, so I can actually hear her soft voice when I read ‘Thanksgiving’. It’s another of her joyful, optimistic poems that pick you up, dust you down, and make you feel that maybe, just maybe, you can start all over again.
“Speaking of miracles, what about duvets, pillows,
clean warm sheets, the quiet healing of a deep sleep …”
Patrick Chapman’s poem ‘July’ is one that affects me personally because I believe it refers to a mutual friend who passed away last July. It’s about other people too and in this way it is broadened out onto that ‘universal’ plane so necessary in a poem. Sad reading, but good, well-crafted reading. A very moving poem.
So many good poems – too many to mention. For instance, If I were to talk of Clare McCotter’s stunning ‘Ghost Children’ this short review would turn into a very long review.
“Do not waste your time hanging spirit traps
bright clothes hold no charm … “
Of the stories, I really enjoyed ‘My cat, my bad my lot’ from my old friend DonalMoloney (who also had a story in ‘The Moth’ magazine recently … quite an achievement!). Unlike with poetry, one can’t say much about stories in case one gives the game away but I will say that I do not think I have read a story with a culinary flavour before! Really good. Also I liked Caroline Carey Finn’s ‘Cats’. Mary Gunn’s story ‘Never too Late’ was also enjoyable – I think Jimmy and Laurie would make a good match … if he keeps up his courage! And, as with the poetry, the items I mention here are just a very few of the great material in the magazine.
My own poem is simply a celebration of the birth of a child:
Far out on the edge of things
the stars have had to shift this morning
to make room for you, obeying
that which Archimedes noisily
proclaimed, or that which is maintained
about a butterfly’s wing beat
having the power to set off hurricanes.
It is the rule that anything that enters
must shove over something else
and so it is this day that molecules,
discommoded by your advent,
must now seriously recalculate,
adjust themselves, create a space
for this new member of the cosmos.
Flex a toe or twitch an eyelash
and past Saturn’s coloured rings
and Jupiter’s red spot there will be slight
but quite significant displacements,
tidings of your safe arrival rippling
back across the vast aethereal ocean
towards the Primum Mobile.
Boyne Berries 18 is available through the Boyne Berries website http//boyneberries.blogspot.ie at €10 incl. P&P.