I think this will have to be a very brief, pitiful account of last week’s poetry, given that it’s Tuesday and I’ve only just finished reading it (for shame). I loved it, but it was tough, and again I’m faced with my own incompetence in terms of writing in any kind of meaningful way about a week’s worth of poetry.
I specifically chose Manhandling the Deity for last week, which was, of course, Holy Week. I’d read the three ‘Officium’ poems (‘Spare me Lord for my days blow like smoke. / What is man that you should magnify him; / why do you tender towards him your heart of love?’) and thought that the grappling with religious themes, along with the dark, melancholy tone of much of the collection, would make good seasonal reading. It was; it also fed my own writing, though I have a long way to go before I get anywhere near the kind of weightiness coupled with emotional restraint that Deane masters. ‘The Apotheosis of Desire’, in particular, is perfect Holy Week reading, as was ‘Knock’ –
the perfect pilgrimage is a circling
or better yet a wilful stomping in place,
or best of all, eyes closed, attending, and standing still.
A lot of this collection moved me deeply, and in the midst of a tiring and difficult week it was real solace. I found it hard work – perhaps I need to read a lot more Irish poetry. A lot of it was just beyond me. Still, in a hard week, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
So many favourites! And so many favourite words (‘dreep’, ‘mistle’… lovely). Particularly towards the end; it was almost a bit too much. I had to stop and pause between each poem. But here’s the list: ‘Old Red House’, the three ‘Officium’ poems, ‘Knock’, ‘Seafarer’, ‘On Firm Ground’, ‘For the Record’, ‘Fantasy in White’, ‘Runt Bird’, ‘Scandal’, ‘Recessional’ and ‘Canticle’.
Perhaps what I’ve loved most about this collection is how it speaks to me of the already and the not yet – the tension of the kingdom of God having broken into our world, but not yet come fully; the deep down goodness of things set against the darkness and brokenness of life. Faced with this, the poet’s encouragement (in ‘The Wild Meadow’) is to ‘Attempt the ordering of rhyme. // Attend, be guardian. Love, and offer praise.’
And, impossible as it is to pull out just one favourite, another poem about finding the way home, ‘From a Far Country’:-
Space, this sunbright autumn day
between rains; a beech hedgerow
ochre-gold and amber and tender-green,
stands classical in its fetchedness; the holly
rises to a clear sky, its clutch of berries
still and redolent; moments you touch
the equitable pulsing of the earth; mostly
our world is a high stone-studded door
and there is no way through; but, through,
God is at home in his and our suffering
and it is we who dawdle, language-lost,
in a far country we call our own;
He is beyond horizons and beyond beyond,
unviable, impossible, but still we stand
on a sunbright autumn day and breathe
with satisfaction the green word: home.
Manhandling the Deity, John F. Deane (Carcanet, 2003)