James J. McAuley, ‘Giving image pride of place’, review of Tom Mac Intyre, Kerry Hardie and Paul Perry,
in The Irish Times (16 Dec. 2006), Weekend.

ABC: New Poems By Tom MacIntyre New Island, 45pp. €11.99pb. The Silence Came Close By Kerry Hardie The Gallery Press, 79pp. €18.50hb, €11.95pb. The Orchid Keeper By Paul Perry Dedalus Press, 64pp. €11pb. The Evergreen Road By Robert Welch Lagan Press, 69pp. £7.95pb/ £14.95hb

All four of these poets are exponents of the primacy of the image. This approach certainly has broadened poetry’s scope, but poses problems of form, the poem as “a shape cut in time”. Tom MacIntyre’s new work, for instance, tests us with the tension between image and form, and rewards us with his tireless sensual and psychic energy.

He raises language and form above the banalities of current usage, with many archaic allusions to carry us along mysterious streams of consciousness, funny and fearsome by turns -

Get real. Ever read Heraclitus?
Wise Old Bird, he wasn’t far wrong -
The pig delights in filth and dung -
and the slut’s withers are unwrung!

- in the Joycean manner, attacking the facile surfaces of language to get to where experience and dream conjoin. A delightful, rambunctious, and much too slim volume.

Kerry Hardie’s humane, generous voice is quite restrained in comparison with Tom MacIntyre’s hectic surrealism. This substantial offering has five sections: “Of Harmony”, “Of Strife and Conflict”, “Of the Middle”, “Of Love and Longing”, and “The Way Things Are”. These headings add a mildly ironic effect; a prose-poem, Burrowing Creatures, acts as preface, ending with a verse quatrain:Wait, it’s coming again,

Oh listen, listen -
The shining rises up with the words,
then dies down into the dark.

This reviewer must in all honesty confess to reservations about prose-poems. Visiting Eastern Europe , for example, with its in-medias-res opening, has a dramatic content that might have been better served by a verse form. In prose or verse, however, her sharply observant, intimate persona engages us with direct, economical language and understated lyrical rhythms.

Flood is a key poem, each stanza a sharply focused scene - swans in a “sedgy” field, “And the little hills, circling./ And the sag of the sky”. Then “A slow file of cows/ threads through a gap in the thorns . . .”. Then “More swans, more water./ The coil of their necks . . .”. Thence to “the big-bellied sky, great with rain”.

This poet’s readers become fascinated companions as scenes and aperçus unfold, quietly, fatefully.

Some of Paul Perry’s new work, meanwhile, appears on the page as if texted to the reader -

smooth smooth
smooth enough to soothe
and clean a wound
almost

- though most of the 21 poems in this fascinating second collection are closer to the orthodox, often playfully so. “Towing an Iceberg to Belfast” takes up four pages with one-line, one-word double-shifted “stanzas” with a couplet or two, then six staggered lines, then a set of quatrains, then all of the above in a mix - cunningly contrived to suggest comic exertion, until “At last / The city/ Exhales an icy breath”.

In “The Lady with the Coronet of Jasmine”, the first-person speaker is Gladstone. The struggle between Christian orthodoxy and the Freudian libido is a strikingly successful use of the dramatic monologue. At 81 tercets, it is also courageously long in the era of the short personal lyric. Although Perry also includes a pair of epistolary prose-poems - arrgh! - most poetry readers will savour this slim but rich offering, and will likely read it through again before leaving it down.

They will also welcome Robert Welch’s fourth collection. On the surface, these poems are relaxed, low-key; but they are carefully composed to serve their imagery and quietly cadenced tones. As befits the editor of The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature, who has also written fiction and drama, he is adept at shaping experience into lyrical and narrative forms, alert to the value of sharp focus and tonal moderation:

The well has lain unused
for weeks, and the red ore
leached from the peat
has stained the water,
now harsh with the tang of iron ...

The content ranges from this type of neo-pastoral imagism to the personal lyric; from the adaptation of a passage from the Aeneid of Virgil in rollicking hexameters to “The Heat”, a loss-of-innocence poem in panting dimeters. Several poems address or are dedicated to other poets, reflecting fellowship rather than the usual bunkum of literary rivalry. His readers are carried along by the cadences of common speech, the quiet irony, and the unfolding narrative. This “academic” poet is associated more with Adrigole and Leamagawra than the groves of Academe.

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