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Jennifer Matthews reviews Marion O'Rourke's first collection



Jennifer Matthews reviews Dave Lordan's Invitation to a Sacrifice

Jennifer Matthews was born in Columbia, Missouri in the USA. After studying for the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Northumbria she moved to Cork, Ireland in 2003 and continues to live there now. Aside from reviews, she also writes poetry and has been published in Mslexia, Revival and Poetry Salzburg, and has read her work at the New Writers Showcase in the Heaventree Poetry Festival in Coventry, UK. In 2010 she was anthologised in Dedalus's 2010 collection of immigrant poetry in Ireland, Landing Places.




Inhaling the Light by Marian O'Rourke reviewed in Southword JournalInhaling the Light

Marian O'Rourke

(Lapwing, 2009)

ISBN: 978 1 907276 20 0

£8 paperback


Buy from Lapwing





While Limerick-born Marian O’Rourke has spent most of her life in North America, she has crucially maintained an outsider’s wary, observant eye. Inhaling the Light does the work of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, revealing would-be tyrants hiding behind the curtains of hoarded power. Magdalene laundries, tourist traps and consumer capitals are her well-chosen targets. In ‘Brooklyn Train’, a beggar is “Ignored by laptops and Blackberries/ oblivious to the oncoming crash, /still sure of the dollar’s message— / In God We Trust.” The personification of laptops and Blackberries is cleverly, paradoxically dehumanising. The point is well-made.

            ‘Brooklyn Train’ is one of the pieces in her ‘New York Quartet’. This section is an important critique of consumerism, employing plucky rhythm and keen imagery. In ‘The March’, Christmas consumers are:


....the botoxed, detoxed,

perma-tanned trout-mouths, x-ray

thin bodies feasting on slogan-rich diets—

Because you’re worth it, all hooked

on the hypnotic tonic of shopping.


Much of the pleasure in this collection comes from her way with sound. Combined with a worthy message, it makes the treat all the better.

On the odd occasion, though, I was left wishing the poems in the collection had been submitted to more rigorous editing (sometimes to be pushed further, sometimes to be pruned back a bit). In the same poem above, the shoppers are said to resemble ‘the final parade of the 3rd Reich’—a comparison which I’m not quite sure is fair. Mindless consumerism is certainly criminal in its wastefulness, its exploitation of third world workers and its disregard for those who are impoverished. However, is it on par with genocide? The question reminds me of comedian/journalist Jon Stewart’s recent Rally to Restore Sanity, where participants carried placards saying “I disagree with you very strongly, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”

Saying that, her suite of Magdalene Laundry poems is spot on: not a word out of place, nor any false sentimentality. These accomplished pieces weave together the girls’ raw experiences, the complicity of the community and the sins of the church and family who put them there in the first place. Powerful images are used throughout: ‘wrists chained to suds’, ‘a fist of frocks’ and ‘sodden yellow terror’. Her restraint in the telling of these stories is admirable, and the wide-angled distance she keeps the reader at leaves you feeling angry and helpless, garnering sympathy for the inmates of these godforsaken places. In ‘At the Magdalene Convent Laundry’:


Tonight custodians of all tarnished virtue

Rest in the liturgy of dreams, their beads

And beaten silver hearts swing free

From hooks on cell-white walls.


The injustice of the abusers’ pristine lives is infuriating. O’Rourke’s work is a fine protest which does exactly what this generation should be doing—making the truth known, refusing to let it get hidden by those who shirk responsibility, and installing in us the fear of letting them get away with it.

            The final section of the book is more personal, including many sense-pleasing travel poems. Although pieces like ‘Cinerama’ or ‘The Little Flower’ occasionally wander towards the boundary of poetry and personal anecdote, she always gives you a reason to keep reading. Her gift for imagery, and command of rhythm and musicality carry right through the end of the collection. The quiet strength and emotional truth of poems like ‘Black Dog’, ‘Holy Night’ and ‘Foxy’ will stay with me:


            Bless this narrow room

            that allows no space for old accounts,

            wide enough


            for peace to sneak through greying lace curtains.

            Here I unhook the heavy loneliness

            that weighs me down.


Inhaling the Light is a fine collection, and O’Rourke is a poet both of challenge and of promise.


©2010 Jennifer Matthews





Author Links


Interviews by Matthews with various poets through Ó Bhéal

Matthews poems on Poetry International Web

Yank Refugee in the PRC (blog)





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