New poetry: Frank Ormsby keeps us on our toes and Mina Gorji offers wonderful debut

Gerard Smyth’s slow pace saps collection of energy but its riskier poems are its best

Frank Ormsby’s seventh collection, The Rain Barrel, treats familiar objects with a slant charm. Photograph: Parkway Photography

Frank Ormsby’s seventh collection, The Rain Barrel, treats familiar objects with a slant charm. Photograph: Parkway Photography

The poems in Frank Ormsby’s seventh collection, The Rain Barrel (Bloodaxe), treat familiar objects with a slant charm, giving them histories, personalities, and minds of their own. They become like small gods or totems in the farmland. The highlight of the collection is its title poem, a sequence of 17 parts, which feels inspired by Wallace Stevens’s masterful Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. Ormsby’s observations, here, move from the wry (“it maintains the judicious silence/ for which rain barrels are famous”) to an astute exactitude which Stevens’s himself would be proud of.

At 100 pages, this is quite a long collection, and is book-ended by the stronger poems, but Ormsby’s arrangement, dipping unexpectedly into darkness, then lifting into poems that are comedic, colloquial, and seem to wink knowingly at the reader, keeps us on our toes.

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