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On Given Light

Eugene O'Connell reviews Michael Coady's new collection






Eugene O' Connell's books include One Clear Call (Bradshaw Books) and Diviner (Three Spires Press). A selection of his poems have appeared in the recently published anthologies Poets of the South, edited by Gabriel Fitzmaurice, and Fermata, edited by Vincent Woods and Eva Bourke. He is co-editor with Pat Boran of The Deep Heart's Core, an anthology that explores the theme of Vision, due out from Dedalus Press in February 2017.






Given Light

Michael Coady

(Gallery Press, 2017)

ISBN: 978911337300


Buy from Gallery Press



Nothing is lost on Michael Coady, one of Ireland’s most distinctive poets. A poet who is ever alert to the goings on of Carrick-on-Suir, a place he has chronicled in each of the six books he has written.

The markings on the butcher’s block of his local butcher shop can trigger a meditation in the prose piece "It All Depends" on generations of butchers who have left their mark, quite literally, on a wooden counter.

At the funeral mass of Amigo Holden, in a piece entitled "Palestrina and Amigo Holden Of The Hill," a local character doubles as a reflection on traditional Irish Catholic funeral rites and as a eulogy to an individual who might otherwise be forgotten—an example of the poet as dispassionate observer and sympathetic witness.

A piece that’s witty and humane in equal measure, "Tom Flannery the officiating PP" is slipping


the occasional absent minded hesitation over homily or prayer


while Emily Linnane, a local hairdresser who moonlights as an organist, is inspired to sing this instead of the usual hymn she would open with:


adios amigo, adios my friend

The road we have travelled has come to an end


This tour de force illustrates his preoccupation with Carrick, its endless ability to surprise, to reveal the unexpected to a poet ever on the lookout for moments of epiphany.

The photograph of Joe "the Joker" Griffin’s upturned head—"a picture that tells a thousand words," exemplifies Coady’s instinct for ritual, for that sacred vein that courses through the ordinary. A photo that’s referenced in a brief acknowledgments note as of one "who habitually speculated on the universe and existence from his vantage point in Tullahought in south Kilkenny".

Coady is one of the few poets (I can’t think of any other) who embodies a place, who experiences it, quite literally, through the senses. He is journeyman on walkabout through a town that does actually have character and is a personality, a backdrop, in all of his books.

How he frames a photograph, the camera "a second eye," is mirrored in visual often painterly prose pieces that pepper the book. He has an uncanny ability to unearth an image or metaphor in poems that gets to the heart of the matter.

Peter Denman calls Coady's method "commonplace" in the tradition of the Victorian diary—like compendium, it mirrors an eclectic sensibility. His is a mindset that finds its match in Carrick, a river side town with an exceptionally rich heritage, Anglo Norman, Old English, Gaelic and an Italian musical operatic tradition, a sprawling canvas for someone of the disposition of Michael Coady to work on (Oven Lane, the name of one of his books, is just one of a myriad of medieval lanes).

Carrick is a town that is haunted by social, political and cultural upheavals—how the past informs the present in all kinds of unexpected ways is an abiding preoccupation of the poet. The imprint of famine on the landscape in "A State of Light" with it’s haunting refrain


bionn gach sean nua

is gach nua sean


references a vernacular—Gaelic in this instance but also Latin of the old Catholic mass, a seemingly dead language that informs; adds colour and life to the present.

With this bard-like quality, his books are a repository of the race memory and socio-cultural history of a place, and is complemented by a personal interaction and reaction to people and community—all his books have communal titles.

His intimate closeness with a society (that could be a drawback in lesser hands) is grist for the mill of someone of his sophisticated sensibility. The self deprecating tone of "The Other Half," an account of his son’s birth, rescues a poem that could otherwise be maudlin. The portrait of a hapless poet/father euphoric at the birth of a son, yet distracted by the feisty female consultant who swans into the labour ward, is Joycean in it’s erotic charge.

And talking of self deprecation, the photograph of the poet’s marriage bed on page eighty five, redolent of Tracey Emin’s dishevelled bed at the Turner, is a very witty take on married life—note the stack of books and reading lamp on his side, the slightly angled but nonetheless seductive painting over the headboard.

Coady’s ability to synthesise the diverse nature of his art is cinematic in the way he cuts from scene to scene making seemingly incongruous connections that somehow gel into a plot, into a book that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

This book, for instance, turns inwards to explore family life—the consolation of a wife/life-partner Martina who has built a garden as worthy of consideration as the poetic garden he has built up over the years is explored in "Where There Was None:"


here where there

was none before

in her own time

in her own way

he’s made a garden


That sense of "time’s undertow" permeates a book that addresses his timeless preoccupation with the transience of life, that sense, as reflected in all of his books, that life is "all of a piece," that the individual life is as worthy of consideration, is as likely to yield insight, as that of a celebrated public figure.


I could say much more about of a book of this quality, the exactness of metaphor, the unfussy understated style, the natural diction of poems that are masterpieces of understatement—note also the light and other motifs that are stitched into a book that is ever so subtle in it’s considerations (the photo of the post box on the final page, seemingly empty at first sight until you notice a bird who has nested).

I always come away from a Michael Coady book with the impression that we are in good hands, that whatever is being said is hard won, is measured and tested in the crucible of life experience.




©2018 Eugene O'Connell



Author Links


Poetry at Poetry International

'Callers' in The Irish Times

More work by Eugene in Southword






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