This is a slim volume, made up of brief poems (only one laps onto a second page), with short terse lines (I don’t think any reach across the page). None of this is a criticism: a pinch of chilli is enough to enrich a dish, a good malt is always taken by the sip.
The poems deal with illness, ageing, alcoholism, marriage breakdown and loss and they do so tenderly, acerbically and with enviable economy…and then there is the sudden delight of the playful ‘A Supermarket in County Derry’ written ‘after Allen Ginsberg’ in which the poet imagines stalking Seamus Heaney as he ponders ‘potatoes turnips cabbage’.
Some poems build to a savage punch at the end: these are the last three lines of ‘Distillation’ a poem of three stanzas reflecting on alcoholism being passed down the family genes and whether writing is in the same way,
‘The time he drove to church when I was fourteen/ Telling me about nihilism/ After I told him his drinking made me wish I were dead’
Or this, the final lines from ‘Parenting’, which is the childhood memory of being left in the car while her father went into the pub, having warned her against telling her mother, talking to strangers or letting off the handbrake,
‘Then he would start the car/ slur off up the hill/ I would join in when he sang/ it was safer that way’
‘Other Places’ talks about difference and travel through the realisation that, ‘l will not meet anyone I know here so will not/ have to be polite; but if I fall nobody will rush to me/ calling my name.’
While ‘Trucks and Pyramids’ carries horror from its opening lines:
‘dead boys lie in streets/ strangely relaxed…’
‘…these boys will not be buried/ with jewels or a cat…’
Noting the fathers of these boys and their ‘exuberance of grief’. Fourteen short lines, like knife thrusts.
I love poetry cut back to its sinews, showing the bones. This collection is a fine example of the ‘nothing wasted’ school of writing while being full of humanity.