Secrets and lies


AINE NI GHLINN's latest collection of poetry, Deora Nir Caoineadh, opens powerfully with Tu Fein Is Me Fein, a poem which constructs a gentle, homely scene. A little girl is playing house with an adult: "Chnag tu ar chloch an dorais. Bhuail isteach./"Mise Daidi, tusa Mam," a duirt go seimh, "is me/ag filleadh ort tar eis obair an lae." D'olamar/tae as cupain bheaga bhreige."

The "toy" alerts the reader to nothing in Ptdraig O Snodaigh's English translation, but the word in Irish, "bheige", resounds of the word "breag", or "lie". The homely scene is blown asunder as we read on and realise that what Ni Ghlinn is describing is cleverly hidden sexual abuse.

In poem after poem, she hits us with more developments of this abuse. There are some acute observations: the abused child's need of the abuser to defeat her loneliness, for instance, in Uair Sa tSeachtain and the "queue" of tears waiting to spill forth from her throat, if she could just let one out, in Deora.

The effect of the poems begins to diminish as they multiply, and we begin to feel that what we are reading is a feature article, however. Ni Ghlinn resorts too often to the journalistic to achieve her effect, rather than exploring the possibilities of poetry. She does not exploit metaphor, sound or structure, and there is work here which just seems like chopped up prose; take Seaclaid for instance: "Ithim seaclaid/i gcluideacha dorcha/Ma bhim granna/ramhar goirineach/ bfheidir go/ligfidh se dom". The presence of this journalistic simplicity has been my criticism of much of Ni Ghlinn's work to date.

She moves on to other themes later in the book (somewhat suddenly), but the same criticism remains. There is some telling, and beautifully expressed, social observation - as when, in Litir O Baile, an Irish emigrant gets up at 5 a.m. to catch the letters falling through the letterbox, just in case there is one from home. He says he likes to sort the letters for the other tenants: "Bionn an leaha fuar nuair a theann se/aris in airde staighre".

In Turas Abhaile, she movingly describes the emigrant's journey home, with a car which would be "touching the front door of the church/while the back wheels were/ still coming in the gate" the hire agency papers, he keeps well hidden. It is perhaps a shame that Ni Ghlinn does not give these characters a fictional life in prose, rather than giving us snapshots in poems, which do justice neither to their dramatic potential nor to the art of poetry.