Breda Wall Ryan’s con­firms her tal­ent with lat­est col­lec­tion

Plus, new po­etry from Liz Quirke, James Mar­tyn Joyce and Lau­rence O’Dwyer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS - JOHN MCAULIFFE

Three weeks late for your own moon, you blurted through a tear in the dark. Still teth­ered in place

Un­con­ven­tional per­spec­tive RavenMothers

Breda Wall Ryan’s new book (Doire, ¤12) con­firms the tal­ent ev­i­dent in her first book, In a Hare’s Eye, which won the Shine/Strong Award in 2015. Raven Moth­ers be­gins with a se­quence which uses folk images to craft its own strik­ingly un­usual mythopoeic world. It is a sign of Wall Ryan’s am­bi­tion that she suc­cess­fully ad­dresses a theme like par­ent­hood, so well trod­den and of­ten hack­neyed in re­cent years. Oc­ca­sion­ally ab­stract, her au­dac­ity and skill are ap­par­ent across this fine se­quence:

you screamed red at the air, the as­ton­ish­ing light. Toes un­curled, wings melted al­ready to stubs

(In­truder)

Other suc­cesses in­clude eerie land­scapes such as Crosstalk at the Quilt Mu­seum (“long noisy skeins [of geese] / stitch­ing Cana­dian skies / to our river fields”) and The Re­turn, whose woods are “seething be­hind the house // where the at­tic light burns day and night, / or the barn where a phan­tom spar / still sways and creaks.” The sub­ject of her first book re­turns in Ir­ish Hare: An As­say, a tightly mar­shalled med­i­ta­tion on be­ing hunted, which in­cludes a recipe from a 1747 cook­book that be­gins, omi­nously: “First, catch your hare.”

This is a big, mis­cel­la­neous book, and Wall Ryan tests other styles which are well worked but not as com­pelling. Diaris­tic travel po­ems in­clude Epiphany at Ja­maica Plain, which takes its speaker out of her com­fort zone: “this fear is race-coloured”, she writes, “I have sleep­walked / my whole life.” Some of her son­nets are fine, well crafted and funny, and yes, Wall Ryan can knock out a vil­lanelle, but at its un­set­tling best, Raven Moth­ers is more than a for­mal suc­cess.

Liz Quirke ap­proaches par­ent­hood from a more un­con­ven­tional per­spec­tive in

(Salmon, ¤12), in po­ems about her po­si­tion in a same-sex part­ner­ship, un­easily mov­ing be­tween be­ing “the mother” and “the mom”, “[map­ping] jour­neys for us, / paths we could walk to­gether, / a stag­gered re­lay to start / when your other mother / passed your tiny form to me.” (Nur­ture)

These are hard-won po­ems that rise out of a larger si­lence, re-do­ing the lyrics of Máire Mhac an tSaoi and Ea­van Boland for 21st-cen­tury Ire­land: in Women Po­ets Teach Me How to Be a Woman, this is not all lib­er­at­ing, but in­stead recog­nises, even as it quotes her peers, the

Slowly The Road,

dif­fi­cul­ties of rep­re­sent­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence: “These women put into words / what a swing looks like when a child / no longer plays in it, how bags of clothes / drag in a tear­ful hoist­ing to an at­tic’s dark. / One as­sured that the art of los­ing isn’t hard to master, / but how wrong she turned out to be, how wrong.”

Quirke’s ap­proach to the ma­te­rial is con­ven­tional, and in po­ems like Four Parts Dis­tinct (“Birds war­ble back­wards, flow­ers re­tract to buds”, is how that poem of dis­com­fort and alien­ation be­gins), Por­traits of My Lover and the ti­tle poem, this pays off with images which of­fer a longer view: “At your height the world is all wall and bracken, / stone and pud­dle, you don’t know the hori­zon.”

Bi­og­ra­phy Furey

James Mar­tyn Joyce’s (Doire, ¤12) ben­e­fits from its fic­tion-like set-up, of­fer­ing a kind of bi­og­ra­phy of the epony­mous fig­ure, whose furies, fan­tas­ti­cal imag­in­ings and en­coun­ters with re­al­ity Mar­tyn sketches in five sec­tions.

Ini­tially, Furey emerges from a Ka­vanagh-like world of tough mas­culin­ity, “fight­ing other shaven-headed youths / across the bare, weed-strewn stretches / of com­mon land which no one wanted / but ev­ery­one claimed as all they had.” This hardly pre­pares him for the ur­ban busi­ness world in which he finds him­self. He is an en­gag­ing fig­ure there, rail­ing against a day spent “lis­ten­ing to the guru / speak­ing of the down­side / of of­fend­ing man­age­ment/ with risk-tak­ing ven­tures” un­til there comes “the black­bird’s call / to emo­tional oth­er­ness / trip­ping through the chan­de­liers / scat­ter­ing light on deaf ears”.

Other satir­i­cal high­lights in­clude Furey com­pet­i­tively in­vent­ing a fam­ily to si­lence boast­ful par­ent com­pan­ions (Furey Raises a Fam­ily), and a num­ber of po­ems about en­coun­ters with the lit­er­ary world, one of which, After the Read­ing, mem­o­rably stops the gal­lop of a pro­lific poet who boasts of his “twenty-one col­lec­tions and a long verse nar­ra­tive”: “Would you say you’re hav­ing trou­ble then, get­ting it right?” Furey asks him.

Joyce strikes grace notes too in po­ems like In The Off­ing, which searches for the mean­ing of that odd phrase, dis­cov­er­ing its nau­ti­cal mean­ing, “the limit of the ocean vis­i­ble from the shore,” which opens up an un­writ­ten fam­ily his­tory of em­i­gra­tion, and other sto­ries which might re­main “in the off­ing”, were it not for books like his.

Brain con­nec­tiv­ity Trac­tog­ra­phy

(Tem­plar, ¤13), the mys­te­ri­ous, for­bid­ding ti­tle of Lau­rence O’Dwyer’s first book, does not re­fer to re­li­gious tracts but to the neu­ro­sur­gi­cal study of brain con­nec­tiv­ity. O’Dwyer’s book is, like its ti­tle, ini­tially dif­fi­cult to see, but pa­tient read­ers will be am­ply re­warded.

Set up as a se­ries of dis­crete in­di­vid­ual po­ems, what emerges are a num­ber of se­quences, one set in Haiti, an­other in La­p­land, a third in Chile, with many other parts of the world men­tioned in pass­ing. But the point of the po­ems is not to show­case world travel; O’Dwyer is a ma­ture, tech­ni­cally ac­com­plished poet who tells sto­ries, drama­tises re­la­tion­ships and finds vivid images time and again.

Ptolemy is al­most an ars poet­ica: “Ptolemy used some­thing called the equant point / to make his model work. He knew it was a hack, / but so is ev­ery model and his lasted longer than most.” Like­wise, O’Dwyer’s po­ems’ “con­nec­tiv­ity” be­tween so many parts of the world can be hard to parse, but it is dif­fi­cult to ar­gue with a method if it leads to this book’s many bril­liant prose po­ems, or a poem as strik­ing and thought­ful as Moon over Or­tolan: “I want to put you on a street­corner near the Zo­colo, / lean­ing against a ten­e­ment that’s the colour of gold”, be­gins this poem, which also says, “In the end when I’m fin­ished paint­ing, I don’t want you. / You’re no longer my model. / You can leave now but you don’t.”

The qual­i­ties of this re­mark­ably good, con­sis­tent first col­lec­tion are also ev­i­dent in a cou­plet from Art Ta­tum: “It’s clear that the am­ber of a soul is noth­ing with­out a fly. / Lis­ten to him play with the smoke in his eye.”

John McAuliffe teaches po­etry at the Univer­si­ty­ofManch­ester’sCen­tre­forNew Writ­ing. His ver­sions of Igor Kliko­vac’s po­ems (Smith Doorstop) is out now

■ Stock­holm Syn­drome

Frpm top: Breda Wall Ryan, Liz Quirke and Lau­rence O’Dwyer

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