Shortlisted for the 2016 T. S. Eliot Prize, this new collection of expert lyric poems from Whitbread Poetry Award winner Bernard O’Donoghue movingly animates the scenery and characters of his childhood in County Cork.
The mythologies of family are here: the relative who maybe emigrated to America to be ‘set upon at his arrival / for the few pounds sewn inside his coat’; the memory of ‘Barty, a hopeless speller’, caned so hard he dances; the big top come to the town park; the stolen apples raided from the orchard near the old school. Here too are the collective myths, the groundwater of older texts – Virgil’s Aeneid, the Riddles of the Exeter Book, Dante’s Purgatorio, the lives of the ancients and the gods – all of which in O’Donoghue’s dexterous and discerning care reach forward from their long-ago origins to echo down our own lives. Many of these poems speak in elegy: for Connolly’s Bookshop – closed down and mourned – or for lost friends; for the nostalgic places to which one cannot return, the field-corners and long roads of the deep past: ‘So wistful is the recognition now / of the places that I hardly noted’.
The stunning title piece, and the deft and poignant poems that make up this collection, will confirm O’Donoghue’s place as one of the most approachable and agile voices in contemporary Irish and British poetry. ‘I’m fascinated by O’Donoghue’s wry vision, his infinitely gentle manner of displacing our more predictable reactions to things as they are so that we glimpse their underlying tragedy.’ Tom Paulin
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