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Ars Poetica

Jane Clarke

Dreampaths of a Runaway, Louise C Callaghan, Salmon Poetry, 84 pp, €12, ISBN: 978-1910669891

The new collection from Louise C Callaghan is a welcome addition to her oeuvre, which already includes three collections published by Salmon Poetry and Forgotten Light, An Anthology of Memory Poems (A & A Farmar, 2003).

This collection is a shaped as a quartet in which four distinct parts share core themes and inspirations. The first part, “Dreampaths”, explores the world of an observant, questioning, sensitive child growing up in south Dublin. These poems beautifully evoke a time and place that is barely recognisable now. There is a loss at the centre of this middle class home, a loss that is known but not spoken of: three brothers killed in France. A quiet father is evoked tenderly in a poem entitled “Memory & Grief”. This father becomes more known and understood in recollections after his death, as explored later in the collection in “His Good Deeds”.

The second section, “Daily Practice”, contains poems of tribute to other poets: Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, John Berryman, Dennis O’Driscoll, Federico García Lorca. “Insomniac” gives us the image of Elizabeth Bishop playing ping-pong in her Brattle Street flat. It works like some of Bishop’s own poems, seemingly light-hearted at a first reading but revealing levels of meaning with every subsequent one.

The second section also contains the fulcrum poem of the collection, “Our Daily Practice”. This sequence of five poems bravely and sensitively captures the experience of accompanying a mother in her dying days.

Our father … hallowed be thy name.
We stumble again and again,
reciting the words of the Our Father.

As for our trespasses, who forgives
whom? Right now I want her
to be delivered from the pain.

And when I leave later,
I’m discomfited by her cries.
Louise, or is it please, don’t go.

It follows me down the corridor,
past the Nurses’ Station,
her voice, strong, echoing, forsaken.

The third part evokes the landscape and people of the Aran Islands and also contains one of the finest poems in the collection, which could be an ars poetica for this poet:

Rock & Stone

All the same
I’m going back

to find the field
of a single haystack,

the fuchsia hedge
I lay beneath

blanketed for a night
by woven air

and high black sky.
In my mind’s eye

everywhere is squared
by rock and stone.

Oh I must go back,
to see if anything,

even a word,
can be redeemed.

The final part of this collection, “Ears for the Deaf Man”, is reminiscent of the final section of Vona Groarke’s X, where the work of the artist Vilhelm Hammershoi is so wonderfully evoked. Here, in a well-crafted sequence, Louise Callaghan gives us Goya, the man and his paintings.

“the passion to make and make again
where such unmaking reigns”

Callaghan’s epigraph from an Adrienne Rich poem, “Natural Resources”, speaks to a theme that threads the four sections of this collection together; a passion for and commitment to the art of poetry, which has shaped and given meaning to the life of this accomplished poet.

1/6/2017

Jane Clarke’s first collection, The River, (Bloodaxe Books) was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature 2016 Ondaatje Literary Award. www.janeclarkepoetry.ie

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