Browser: Poems recording pandemic horrors and unexpected kindness

Brief reviews of Smugglers in the Underground Hug Trade; Something Bigger; Northern Ireland A Generation After Good Friday; and Deep Wheel Orcadia

William Wall

William Wall

 

Smugglers in the Underground Hug Trade
By William Wall
Doire Press, €14

“No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague.” William Wall quotes astutely from Camus in his contemporaneous journal of the pandemic. Set between Cork and Camogli, these poems record 2020’s horrors, governmental failings and unexpected kindnesses. Nature becomes compromised – at one outdoor birthday gathering, we “turn away / in case the spring breeze / carries contagion” - though we are reminded also of how “people sang opera / balcony to balcony”. The titular phrase is taken from Wall’s poignant vision of a world where “no one will ever be isolated / in our intensive care”. For those struggling to process the last year, this journal is testament to human connection through generosity and shared experience, as well as through the virus. Tanvi Roberts

Something Bigger
By Sheila Killian
Caritas Press, €14

Fourteen-year-old Marcella Coyle emigrates to America, swapping life in a rural Irish village amid her close-knit family for new possibilities with her brother, a parish priest in Birmingham, Alabama. As she finds work and independence, letters from home recount the changing lives and fortunes of family and friends she has left behind, interspersing her own transformation. Writing to her too is Tommy, the boy she made a promise to before her departure, fighting in the first World War. Meanwhile the KKK is on the rise. Alabama comes alive in a drawl of racism and tension, as Marcella is caught in a crescendo of danger, for herself and for her brother. There is great warmth in Something Bigger, and crisp, limpid writing, a counterpoint to its lyrical nostalgia. A personal and historical saga, cinematic and wide-brimmed. Ruth McKee

Northern Ireland A Generation After Good Friday
Colin Coulter, Niall Gilmartin, Katy Hayward and Peter Shirlow
Manchester University Press, £22.50

Another welcome volume looking at the hard-earned peace in Northern Ireland, and which considers the dividends and changes for its people since, now that the Belfast Agreement is roughly the same age as the Troubles lasted.

It does not read with the ease of (recently reviewed here) Bill Rolston and Robbie McVeigh’s Ireland, Colonialism and the Unfinished Revolution, which covers some of the same ground. Despite the academic tone, though, the book’s real value is in its collated research, painting a nuanced – sometimes surprising – contemporaneous portrait of the province. Chapters with a more expressive voice are particularly strong: women in the conflict, and the ‘new’ NI; religion and what it means to be Northern Irish in a place polarised as two communities; and NI represented on TV and cinema. NJ McGarrigle

Deep Wheel Orcadia 
By Harry Josephine Giles
Picador, £10.99
On a remote space station, Astrid, returning home from Mars, meets Darling, desperate to escape her corporate fathers. Both, searching for “whathowwherewhy a home is”, find each other. This Orkney-dialect verse novel is haunted by loss: of humanity, civilisation, and language. A coder finds herself “looking after machines looking after machines”, a xeno-archaelogist scours a spacewreck for life, and Astrid’s father is “fussvexworrying about whether ... her vowels will come home”. Giles’ combinatory translation captures new love’s effervescence - “their touch is stumblestammeringjoy” - and the richness of Orkney. But will Astrid and Darling stay on Deep Wheel? And how can the station survive short of light-fuel? Such crises propel us through an innovative exploration of how young people can find their place in a fast-disappearing world. Tanvi Roberts
 

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