Poems that speak of insecurity and transience

 

POETRY:THESE THREE COLLECTIONS capture a sense of uncertainty that has come to characterise contemporary Ireland. Shifting between hope and fear, rootedness and displacement or meaning and meaninglessness, they seem to offer a search for an imaginative representation of insecurity and transience.

William Wall’s Ghost Estate(Salmon Poetry, 143pp, €12) takes its title from the vast number of unfinished estates that remain uninhabited since Ireland’s economic breakdown. The title poem’s eerie refrain “if you lived here / you’d be home by now” reverberates in the emptiness of the unlived environment, culminating with the painful recognition that “it’s all over now”. Wall’s poems oscillate between depicting total devastation and hope that is found in humanity’s empathy towards the other. The poems look for points of uncertainty, the in-between and transient expressions of what it means to be human. On Stones, a witty sequence about the multiple interpretations of stone as object of home, eternity, weapon or meaning, claims that “things are classified / by their mutability”. On a societal level Wall’s poems mourn the present state of Ireland but also berate the human greed and selfishness that caused the country’s downfall. On a personal level poems explore the sites of fear, anxiety and hope, constantly searching for meaning within the uncertain. Letter to a Doctormetaphorically interprets a medical camera’s search for illness within the body as humanity’s futile attempt to find its locus of meaning within life: “you &

I are transiting / the great digestive tract / that is the world,” the speaker says, then concludes that there is “no way out / the world is everything”.

Anxiety is also manifest in Wall’s poems about the environment. His apocalyptic vision of the ecological demise of our planet is suffused with humility and resignation where the global catastrophe is transformed “into a universal truth / the days are shorter / today than yesterday”. Death, whether environmental or personal, takes central stage in the collection. In Flying Towards a Funeralhe recounts with great sadness and empathy the inevitable passing of time as “this cumulus of grief / this near miss in time” where “we feel temporary / too late”.

One of the best poems in the volume is Eight Observations About Hope, a witty and cinematic snapshot of images that does not express hope but observes it. Although hope remains hidden and inaccessible, it materialises in the very act of looking for it.

William Wall has a masterful capacity to depict ambiguity. The striking lack of punctuation throughout the volume and the hidden motifs of thresholds vividly capture transience and doubt as the essence of frail humanity.

A SIMILAR EYEfor detail is evident in Katherine Duffy’s Sorrow’s Egg(Dedalus Press, 69 pp, €11). Grief and death, which are central motifs of the volume, become accentuated by a lived experience of indifference. Although tinged with disappointment, however, life is celebrated in its smallness, in the tiny details that go unnoticed by most. Thus a cooking apple with all its sourness and hardness becomes a kind of subversive Eve’s apple, the speaker’s “grey-skies cold-wind hard-times bad-news apple”, which nevertheless finds meaning in the “comfort food” it is to become.

Duffy plays around with the idea of entrusting inanimate objects with human feelings. Pathetic Fallacylistens to a boiler’s longing for “servicing, expertise, whisperings”, creating a not too subtle metaphorical link between a neglected object and the loneliness of the human soul. The greatest strength of the volume lies in its capacity to capture ambiguity. The poems search for the meaning of life and death but seem to find transient details instead. Life seems to go on elsewhere – in the rocks, shadows, leaves, insects or moon – but true meaning can never be found where it is expected. The Real Thing, for example, shows how the experience of loss endows neglected remedies (lemon and honey recommended by the father) with existential significance:

Last night I took a knife,

sent tart wheels

into hot water,

spooned in amber streels

and stirred like a sorcerer.

I raised my glass to the air,

to the generous, the lost,

the recipe’s reciter.

DISPLACEMENT, TRAUMA ANDsilence form the central motifs of Adam Wyeth’s debut collection, Silent Music(Salmon Poetry, 69pp, €12). In the strongest poems Wyeth reaches back to childhood memories, sensitively re-creating the trauma and pain of divorce from a child’s perspective. “Dad” shows a “blackening silence” that overcomes father and son on their way home and concludes with “the real darkness” and “chill of parting” as they say goodbye for another week.

Wyeth has an honest voice, and he is not afraid to make himself vulnerable. Cinema Complexoffers a clever, poignant glimpse of a mother-son relationship, playing with the idea of going back to the past to warn his mother “to turn her back on the future”. Displacement and belonging take central stage in poems where Wyeth contemplates his migrant identity, depicting himself as an English “tongue-tied blow-in” in Cork. Silent Music is a clever volume that playfully questions taken-for-granted certainties, and, though there are few poetic gems, a fresh and imaginative voice is evident.


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