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Afric McGlinchey reviews John McAuliffe's newest poetry collection.




Afric McGlinchey

Afric McGlinchey’s début collection, The Lucky Star of Hidden Things, was published by Salmon Poetry, and features a number of poems set in Zimbabwe, where she was raised. Her work has been translated into Spanish, Irish, Polish and Italian. Awards include a Hennessy Emerging Poetry Award, The Northern Liberties Poetry Prize (USA), Poets meet Politics Prize and a Faber Academy Fellowship, as well as a number of placed, highly commended and shortlisted poems, and Pushcart and Forward nominations. She is currently Poet in Residence at the West Cork Arts Centre. She has been awarded a Cork County Council arts bursary to work towards her second collection, forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2016. Afric lives in West Cork. www.africmcglinchey.com





John McAuliffe

The Way In

John McAuliffe

(Gallery Press, 2015)

ISBN: 978 1 85235 630 0

€11.95 paperback

Buy from Gallery Press





Subtlety is a word that defines the poetry of John McAuliffe, whose previous collection, Of All Places was a Poetry Book Society recommendation. The title of his fourth collection, The Way In, suggests that he is an intuitive poet, who waits until he finds the right size and shape of key for the lock, then turns … and we’re in. Though nothing is as simple as it seems:


            "In the cities it’s a beach

                        it’s a night

            it’s a glass of wine

                        it’s the morning and the radio

            in a small glass

                        saying something out loud, oblivious"



McAuliffe’s skill is in his deftly selected details. In the narrative poem ‘Shed’, human nature is revealed as slowly and steadily as the shed’s journey from one neighbour’s garden to another: "half full cans / of paint and petrol, full potential, evaporating into the air."


These are quiet poems; no psychedelic whirligigs. ‘The Retreat’ might be describing his spare writing style: "A white wall / with nothing on it at all except what I put there. This. The bell / of that church, clean and punctual."


Paul Muldoon suggests that we start out by writing about the small things ("otherwise what can you build up to?") and this is precisely what McAuliffe does here. In another narrative, ‘Stand-off on Santiago Street’, two friends meet at a crossroads, one on "an ex-postie’s bike", the other on a school run in a "bullbar hybrid", and chat about random nothings, although the speaker knows "my kids / in the emptying yard will be looking at their feet."


Humour is as low-key as you’d expect from McAuliffe: "I point out, / and you do (we are natural pointers)".


The leap of pleasure the speaker feels at seeing his old friend, is conveyed by the way he keeps telling anecdotes, not wanting to end the conversation, although their paths have gone in different directions:


          "But one more: another time, a man screeched

            his banger of a Micra to a stop, right here,

            not half a block from where a couple

            stood talking. Half in, half out of the Micra,

            engine still beating, he roared, maybe shrieked is better,

            ‘I fuckin love ye Louise’."


Other encounters share the symbolic object of a vehicle (in transition, so this is conversation literally in passing.) In ‘Secretarial’, (Part 5 of the ‘Home Again’ sequence) "Colin stopped me then, leaning on the open door of the Renault / …and said his father hated that his mother called him Colin, / but he’s the one who stuck it out". These reported dialogues allow the narrative to turn, develop and intertwine subjects, both within the poem and within the collection. Here, the slight guilt at having left Ireland to live in England is matched by the accusatory tone that meets him back home: "No one, / it seems he had to tell me this, no one belonging to them ever had / to go over to England, a sally he follows up with a question about where I live".


Though the speaker is often party to these encounters, he is also at a distance, watching from an outsider’s perspective:


          "Upstairs, the doll-like child

            in her pooled nightie

            plays with dolls:

            what a life they live

            on the stand-in bed-cum-world"

                                                            (‘The Unofficial Dead’)


A lover of the long line, many of McAuliffe’s narratives densely fill the page in poems that often read like prose:


           "I mustn’t have sunk it in the water after I found it behind the shed

            because here it is, the penny, back again in my pocket."

                                                                                    (‘The Penny’)


But the patterning of his sounds and rhythms is as surprising and pleasing as the aliveness he brings to his images:


            "…at the window,

            passing by, was the horse pulling the plough


            in from the brightening edge of the far field,

            a mosaic which tile by tile the light revealed.


            Who was driving it? Whoever was up

            woke the day with a little pop of his whip."


A scrolling through the collection reveals a small confetti of references to the P.G. (post-Google) era—emails, wi-fi, satnav, screens, mobiles, etc, but there are also references to photocopiers, CDs, a prayer book, gas cylinder, clock: a jumble of objects that symbolize the psychological and technological leaps that have been made in the space of just a few decades and absorbed into our ordinary lives; some made redundant, but still taking up space, or we are loath to let them go because of accumulated sentimental value.


There’s a spoken naturalness and thoughtfulness to the lines, somewhat like Sinéad Morrissey, who also favours long lines, though she writes more lyrically. In other poems (I sense a Northern influence in general), the tone, rhythm and meditative quality are strikingly reminiscent of Derek Mahon. Here’s an example where the final lines evoke Mahon’s "night life of the shore, rock music, flashing light":


            Snail Days


            Back and forth to town and ocean:

            the train that takes us, snail days,

            runs between like a thought,


            a thought with rain streaking it

            and fields like a faithful companion.

            A swaying to which we listen,


            coming, here and there, to terms

            with the tide’s systemic pulse,

            the Atlantic silver like a city at night.


It is through things that John McAuliffe tells his narrative, and like Don Paterson’s "great twin-engined swaying wingspan of us" in ‘The Thread’, McAuliffe’s dragon in ‘Exeunt’ (part 4 of ‘Knight’) becomes a symbol of the thread that holds them together as they find themselves:


          "on our knees, putting the evening and years of practice

            into pushing it between us, making plane noise,

            mmmmhmmmm, nnnng, ng, ng, nnnnng,

            revving through take-off, bearing it all, up up,

            and no thought of landing."


The poems archive private and family memories in language that is crystalline, uncontrived and intelligent. Sometimes the intimacy is so tender, the reader feels they have stumbled on a private diary, or letters to a loved one. There is a truth to this collection, and a sincerity that is achieved simply because he is not trying to impress anyone. The skillfully wrought poems are


           "A way of answering


            to a day, to years of them, that we step into and speak up for.

            To you.

            There is no one else I am talking to."

                                                                        (‘On Earth’)


©2015 Afric McGlinchey


Author Links


Afric McGlinchey at Salmon Poetry

Poems and reviews by Afric McGlinchey in Southword Journal

Afric McGlinchey at Sabotage Reviews

Poems by Afric McGlinchey at Writers' Hub






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