Originally published in Rí- Rá in The Irish Post, Thursday December 12th, 2013
Loath as I am to pick just five books, here are some collections of original poems from poets writing in the English language that made my 2013
The Water Stealer by Maurice Riordan (Faber)
The Water Stealer by Maurice Riordan
A long- time resident of south- London and a native of Lisgoold, Co. Cork, Riordan, like James Joyce, never fully left Ireland. In ‘The Cross’, one of the collection’s more remarkable poems, Riordan conjures the image of a hurling match being “broadcast live from Thurles or Birr” from a toy model car in a model village. It is Riordan’s seemingly effortless ability to blend the traditional with the modern that sets him apart from his contemporaries. Similarly, Riordan’s elegy to Michael Donaghy, the late Irish- American poet, is one of the more memorable elegies composed in memory of the much- memorialised and much- missed poet.
Pluto by Glyn Maxwell (Picador)
Pluto by Glyn Maxwell
Narrowly missing out on this year’s Forward Prize for Best Collection, Glyn Maxwell’s Pluto confirm’s Maxwell as one of the most original and under- appreciated poets of the current era. Brimming with language of the day and subtle rhetorical flourishes, the rhythm of opening poem ‘The Bye Laws’ is rooted in song, making it feel like an overture for the poems of consistent technical skill and formal versatility to follow. In ‘The Case of After’, the centre- piece of Pluto, Orpheus reaches into the underworld by logging on to a dating site: “She wore dark glasses in the only photo / I could access yet. I was peering at that window / like peter sodding Quint I had the blue glow.”
Drysalter by Michael Symmons Roberts (Cape Poetry)
Drysalter by Michael Symmons Roberts
Described as a “religious poet for a secular age”, poet Michael Symmons Roberts followed good on the peaks of previous collections Corpus and The Half Healed with Drysalter, his sixth collection of poems, which won this year’s Forward Prize for Best Collection. A novelist and a librettist as well as a poet, Drysalter finds Symmons Roberts working on a smaller canvas than he is used to; all 150 poems were composed to the formal constraint of 15 lines. Symmons Roberts’ great skill is in reinvigorating the familiar with striking images. Take ‘Hitchcockian’: ‘The birds are taking over. Not in rows on high wires / chittering on rooves at passers- by, fixing a lone child / with their red- ringed, sink hole eyes…”.
The Mining Road by Leanne O’Sullivan (Bloodaxe)
The Mining Road by Leanne O’Sullivan
Cork poet Leeane O’Sullivan aligns herself as closely to the Irish lyric tradition as is possible with The Mining Road. The strong influence of the late Seamus Heaney weighs heavily in O’Sullivan’s fourth collection of poems, but O’Sullivan has the confidence and experience not to allow the great man’s influence overpower her work. The theme of discovery recurs again and again in The Mining Road. In The Boundary Journey, a two-part poem- the first mentioning the Atlantic ocean, the second alluding to the Irish Sea- finds O’Sullivan wedged between two different places, two different zones (‘Not to the boundary waters / that part our two counties’). In these subtle, slow- burning and sensuous poems that reward with successive readings, The Mining Road is a step in the right direction for O’Sullivan and, indeed, for Irish poetry.
Consent by Kimberly Campanello (Doire Press)
Consent by Kimberly Campanello
Dividing her time between both Dublin and London, American poet Kimberly Campanello’s first collection of poems from Galway publisher Doire Press is one of poetry’s most auspicious débuts in recent years. Formally exciting and full of surprises, Campanello is a poet who knows that darkness is a necessity in order to appreciate lightness; her poems veer from humorous observations (opening poem ‘Consent’ contains the nugget “My bowels are bound / by cheese and fear”) as well as poems that pack a powerful emotional punch; in ‘Grandma’, Campanello uses the conversational register so prevalent in her work to devastating effect, when describing a woman’s deterioration due to Alzheimer’s disease: “You burn the bottom / of four coffee pots. / You serve your grandchildren / raw sausages on Sunday / When you’re hungry / you eat ice cream.” A stunning début from an exciting talent.