Reviewed by Liz McSkeane
The title of Eamonn Lynskey’s third collection poetry, “It’s Time,” evokes a sense of meditation – on life, on the urgency of tackling our life’s work, whatever that may be. The reader expecting such reflections will not be disappointed. But from these fifty-two poems, the understated and ambiguous title unravels to reveal a tapestry of interconnected themes that are not only personal, but social and political as well.
The title poem, which opens the collection, conjures a moment of renewal, a spring day in the suburbs when images of dead leaves and a wheelie bin combine to make the familiar strange:
“There’s something sharp
about the sunlight blinds the eye this morning –
stems have straightened up, the wheelie bin
has taken on a strange new lustre.”
The beautiful elegy, “A Connaught Man’s Rambles” distils the harshness of life for Irish emigrant workers in a personal recollection of the poet’s father. A stroll in the country, “Nunhead Cemetery” takes the poet, and us, down memory lane and face-to-face with
“…the narrow span
between the spark and its extinguishing.”
A reprieve from a brush with mortality breathes palpable relief in “That Moment When” and “Home an Hour”. And presiding over all, the shade of that “Thief” who comes in the night and is not just after your money…
“It’s Time” is also a call to action, in the sense that ‘It’s time something was done about’ – what? In “Down to Africa” and “Lament,” the latter an elegy to the lost and disappearing life of the Great Barrier Reef, the poet casts his appalled gaze over the legacy of destruction and environmental degradation our human intervention has wreaked on nature. He also challenges us to remember the anguish wrought by conflict and wars, past and present. Images here are concrete and often shocking: the voice of a “A Professional in Charge” brings a horrifyingly clinical view of the execution of Anne Boleyn. “Warrior” subjects the skeleton of a slain Neolithic warrior killed in battle to modern forensic analysis. “Civilian Executions, Minsk, 1941” and “Lists” remember the anonymous victims of atrocities and war, bystanders in the drama of history’s disasters. And the great events of history are skilfully intermingled with the minutiae of small lives: “ Metzu’s Women” in the past, the poet’s own life laid bare in the clutter of objects being cleared out by unknown successors in “Day of Judgement.”
Much of the power of this vision is conveyed through the evocation of everyday objects: a stone-age knife, random objects displayed in a museum, a photograph. The poet’s scrutiny has an ethnographic quality that imbues simple artefacts of the past, and the present, with the lustre of talismans. Lynskey is at his best when his insights are mined from these vignettes of shared humanity, evoked through the everyday and sometimes sinister uses of daily objects. These images permit readers space and freedom to make connections, draw our own conclusions. Only occasionally does the poet succumb to the temptation to interpret on our behalf, such as “This Photograph” and “My Song is Simple” which tip over into didacticism. But these lapses are few. This is a book that disconcerts, not least in tenderness not only for our neighbour, but for the Other, such as
“two English boys who disembark
To angry streets at Eastertime”
“It’s Time” is engaged poetry, imbued with great passion and compassion that smoulders, slow-burning, in the mind of the reader long after the “Final Notice” has been given.
“It’s Time,” (ISBN 978-1-910669-86-0) Price: €12, is available from good bookshops and from Salmon Poetry at http://www.salmonpoetry.com
Note: Liz McSkeane is a published poet, novelist and short story writer. A former winner of The Hennessy Award, she is the director of Turas Press.