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Best of Irish Poetry 2009
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EUGENE O'CONNELL

 

 

Eugene O'Connell

Eugene O’Connell was born near Kiskeam in northwest Cork in 1951. He has published a number of chapbooks, one full collection of poems One Clear Call (Bradshaw Books 2003) and one book of translations, Flying Blind (Southword Editions), which was volume 12 of the Cork European City of Culture Translation Series. Diviner, a new collection of his poems, was published by Three Spires Press in 2009. He is editor of The Cork Literary Review.

 

 

Photo ©John Minihan

 

 

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Train to Gorey
Liz O'Donoghue
(Arlen House 2009)
€11.40
Buy Train To Gorey

 

Last Tango in Crosses Green

             

As a rail commuter on the Mallow/Cork train, at one stage in my career, I fantasised about writing a book called Novel on a Train, the conceit (spotted only by my alert and ever expanding readership) would be that the word train would never appear in the book.

Liz O’Donoghue has pipped me to the post; the word train is mentioned once in this book and there is only one journey by rail in the entire collection of poems.

On that particular Mallow/Cork commute a woman passenger who got on at Mallow would spend the entire journey applying her makeup, and by the time the train pulled in to Kent station in Cork her face was on and ready for the day.

The protagonist on the Train to Gorey, a woman in her middle years (the poems are mostly in the first person singular), is also a woman of many faces. The face of the jilted lover, the face of the post-modern angst ridden poet, the face of unbridled passion (Liz has no qualms about calling it lust), the face of the knowing Seer, the face of guilt– she did after all grow up in rural North Cork in the 1960s.

The real face behind all the masks is that of the dispassionate, cold-eyed observer possessed of a uniquely filmic eye– redolent of Bunuel and a post war ‘film-noir’ search for meaning, (be warned O’Donoghue’s vision moves far beyond the merely existential).

Her unique gift is to frame a setting for the action of the poem to take place, her eye for the appropriate lighting– the mood music of colour- (blue is especially significant) “Blue bar/ blue sky/ over Tuscany/ blue lamp burning/ behind my eyes/ I have not shed/ one tear for you/ I am building a dam/ to hold blue water” (‘Fiesole’).

Her short terse lines read as stage directions, relentlessly questioning the assumptions that went before, unsettling our accepted notion of things– each poem framing a question rather than looking for some illusory half baked resolution.

‘Last Words in the Hi-B’, for Gregory O’Donoghue her long time friend and collaborator, illustrates her uncanny ability to cut a scene at an inch perfect moment, allowing the sentiment to be reined in, a superb example of John McGahern’s dictum ‘that the writer must allow the reader time and space to finish the work for themselves’ (note the remarkable tenderness of the “Tell me”, the only stand alone line in the poem). 

  

Last words in the Hi B

for Gregory O Donoghue 

 

A jigsaw

you half sneered

down your long nose.

 

Yes

the Blue Violinist

Marc Chagall.

 

You couldn’t help smiling

and conceded graciously

as only you could

and with hands

in the mode for prayer

firmly on the counter

you backtracked with

do you know what’s great about that?

 

Tell me.

 

You get to know

every detail of that picture.

                                                     

One of the ironies, and there are many in such a layered poetry, is how the understated style masks a passionate sensibility– the seemingly laid back style a counterpoint for a seething emotion just simmering beneath the surface.

‘Avoiding the Question’, bubbling over with spleen, must surely rank as an anthem for jilted lovers everywhere, “An old face/ ugly as ever/ crossed the Parade/ his balding head/ more bald/ his gait/ more ferretish/ his whole appearance/ more unwelcome/ than the last./ The Christian thing/ to do would be/ to forgive/ but as a pagan/ do I have to?” 

Such a lightness of touch, the art that conceals art, masks the sophistication of her carefully thought out vignettes, each poem being an occasion or space for dramatic moments to occur for characters to enter or exit, i.e. Murphy (Gerry) “went on/ towards the roof of Spain” in ‘Scenes From Andalucía’.

Critics like James Harpur have noted her unique ability to move at ease through inner and outer worlds, to root her poetry in the physical landscape– the left bank of Cork/Crosses Green district; the imagined childhood of her native Ballyclough; or the psychic world of her experience of love and the inevitable disappointment of the lived life.

©2009 Eugene O'Connell

 

 

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Author Links

O'Connell interviews Richard Murphy

Irish Times review of O'Connell's Diviner

 

 

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