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WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE SHADE

&

CATCHING BATS TAKES PATIENCE:

Róisín Kelly reviews new Liberty Press collections
by Liam Ryan and Mary Kennelly.

 

 

 

Roisin Kelly

Róisín Kelly was born in Northern Ireland but has mostly lived south of the border. After completing her MA in Writing at NUI Galway, she moved to Cork City where she currently lives and writes. Previous publications that feature her work include the Stinging Fly, the Bohemyth, Wordlegs, Mslexia, HARK Magazine, The Weary Blues, the Interpreter's House and the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual 2014. In 2015 she was shortlisted for the Synaesthesia poetry prize and longlisted for the Melita Hume poetry prize, and read as part of the New Writers’ Salon at Listowel Writers’ Week.  Follow her on Twitter @RoisinKelly24

 

 

 

 

Liam Ryan

What's Happening in the Shade

Liam Ryan

(Liberties Press, 2015)

ISBN: 9781909718968

€12.99 paperback

Buy from Liberties Press

Mary Kennelly

Catching Bats Takes Patience

Mary Kennelly

(Liberties Press, 2015)

ISBN: 9781909718982 

€12.99 paperback

Buy from Liberties Press

 

 

 

 

In 2015, Liam Ryan and Mary Kennelly found a home for their poetry collections with Liberties Press. The publisher’s website describes the company as "Ireland’s leading independent publisher," and their dedication to publishing the work of emerging Irish writers is admirable. Although of course the look of a book is its least important aspect, I was struck by the aesthetics of these volumes. A quick look at the website’s online shop reveals that most of their poetry collections have a simple leaf or spiral design in varying colours. It’s a simple and effective way of ensuring that any of these collections will be instantly recognizable as a Liberties Press publication.

            What’s Happening in the Shade is Liam Ryan’s second collection of poetry, following 2009’s Touching Stones (Doghouse Books). The first poem is called ‘Of Poetry’ which implies that what follows will indicate where the poet finds his inspiration. The poet has a love of the small moments that make up both the natural and human worlds. A series of images – almost-haikus, or like little paintings – bring to life for us the train’s "slung […] bucket of sound", a woman’s face in a rearview mirror wearing "a blindfold of light". There’s a playful aspect to the poem as well: "mouseleaves" scurry, and "calfwords" play in the fields—a skilled way of portraying both calves and calves as words.

            The significance of buildings to human lives is something that is explored more than once. In ‘The New Bar’, the pub where the poet fell in love with an unspecified "you" is undergoing renovations.  What does it mean for the relationship and for the meaning of the relationship when every fixture and tile that surrounded that first meeting is in the process of being torn up? The poet feels his way towards the realisation that when physical memory has been demolished, the building of a personal mythology begins. Thus the new bar becomes elevated to something holy, with its "incense of resin and glue".

            ‘Design Brief for a Funeral Parlour’ is an intriguing little piece about the thought that goes into the layout and construction of a funeral parlour, from the reception area to the office. I loved the poem’s slipping away at the end to the little room at the back for embalming, where the body undergoes its last intimate ritual. The poet is preoccupied with the mechanical and practical aspects of this room, whereas I would have preferred the private, secret nature of this space to have been ruminated on a little longer. I was, however, taken with the poet’s description of the practicalities of preparing a body, the "dead weight", that are so contradictory to yet intertwined with the greatest mystery of all, death.

            I was most drawn to poems about the natural world in this collection. Of course this is an entirely subjective viewpoint, but who wouldn’t smile at the image of "girlish faces of new daffodils / dying to make the May altar"? Original and tenderly described images are found in ‘Catching the Wisps’: daffodils about to break through earth in winter are "tubes of yellow well hidden"; a stream comes to rest in "still pools guarding fish". The poet reminds us too of the less gentle side of nature: daytime "bullies night, / brushes it aside like a foggy dream, / or an old-fashioned pang of conscience".

            Ryan’s affinity with nature builds to an affecting climax in ‘Freedom’, in which he imagines himself slipping free of religious laws and the constraints of a small Irish town and facing the "outback of [his] fears":

 

let the barrel of stars unmercifully

intoxicate me; let me be whacked

by the smudged thumbprint of rainbow

 

I wasn’t overly fond of poems that display that tiresome Irish-artist’s refusal to accept certain aspects of a world that is, after all, the one we live in whether we like it or not. A young man in Starbucks is derided merely for the sin of wearing a suit and carrying a smartphone, as if he alone were responsible for the world’s capitalist ills. ‘Yet Another Business Seminar’ tries to be cutting but doesn’t in the end have much new to say about "the guys on the corporate ladder / taking their chances, doing the business". There are also baffling instances of language in this collection. If anyone knows what "caddies murmur assurance as the yardage is cross-checked" means, please let me know. Thank God for the moon’s "nail-clipping of light" like a "rent in the tent of dark"—Ryan knows all too well that in today’s world of smartphones and corporate ladders, poetry is where the light gets in.

 

            Catching Bats Takes Patience is Mary Kennelly’s debut poetry collection. I like the title, though I must admit its significance is lost on me. The opening poem ‘It’s only words’ is the first sign that poet we will come to know in the following pages is one who will discard fussy language in favour of brave sentiment. I felt sorry for this poem’s addressee, a steady, reliable lover who nevertheless is informed that the poet longs to be Cathy Earnshaw, anguished and passionate. It’s hardly the first time that a woman in our culture prefers to feed "on fairytales / and loves the poet’s silver tongue" —the love of the bad boy has found its way into Irish contemporary poetry as well as countless movies and TV shows, it seems.

            The sequence of poems is a bit incongruous, but then again why not. We’re brought from a failed relationship to a mother’s love for her child to a bird of prey tearing its dinner apart (described as "death’s tango") to a humorous piece set in a pub and back again. Many of these poems employ simple language and use clichés with abandon, but there’s something appealing about their honesty and accessibility. I did feel like they’d make good song lyrics; Adele might very well read ‘Memoir’ and weep.

 

Scraped out across the page

Like butter on cold toast,

Old memories and hurts are trotted out,

Old tragedies, old ghosts.

You cast me out unto the wolves

And taint my contribution.

You say this is a healing thing

But it tastes of retribution.

 

It’s clear that Kennelly has the soul of a poet at any rate: "I am the mad dog / Chasing the wild boar of song," she writes, and I wondered how easily this urge in her can be reconciled with the domestic life she describes in several of these poems. In ‘Mother’s reward’, the speaker finds her sole moment of peace when her children are all in bed and the quiet is "[d]isturbed only by the faint thunder / of the electric kettle". It’s a lovely image evocative of rainstorms and fertility, which is apt. Later, the poet again displays her adeptness in summoning images of the feminine sphere, when the transformation of her mother as she applies make-up is encapsulated in one line: "A butterfly began to breathe".

            I had planned to describe a poem called ‘Wood turner’ as deceptive in its apparent simplicity. Here, the poet delights in the play of metaphor, and she herself is surely the piece of wood longing for the craftsman to "free the soul he sees in [her]".  There’s a sly, sexualized undercurrent to the lines "time and again his fingers find my grain" before the poem ends with the ever-present sadness of unrequited love: "Then he sets me down / and walks away".

            But then I turned to a poem at the back of the book titled ‘Dear deceptively simple’, clearly a riff on rejection letters to the poet. "Where lies the gain for us in teaching / Your deceptively simple lines, / Your no-false-rails, your country rhymes?" I was taken aback, a little embarrassed, and finally impressed by the poet’s good-natured humour and wry self-awareness. I do appreciate Kennelly’s honest portrayals of emotion without feeling the need to couch them in obscure language. As the imaginary editor writes, "Your poetry has only truth— / And what is there to learn from that?" Quite a lot, it transpires.

 

©2016 Róisín Kelly

 

Author Links

 

'Selkie': poem by Róísín Kelly in the Weary Blues

Prizewinning poem by Róisín Kelly in the Dromineer Poetry Competition

'Otter': poem by Róisin Kelly in the Bohemyth

More work by Róisín Kelly in Southword

 

 

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