Clairr O’Connor, When You Need Them Jo Slade, In Fields I Hear Them Sing Dedalus Press, Dedalus Intr

Tom Halpin
When You Need Them Clairr O'Connor. Salmon Publishing. hb £8, pb £4.50.
In Fields I Hear Them Sing Jo Slade. Salmon Publishing. hb £8, pb £4.50.
Dedalus Introductions: 1. Dedalus Press. £4.50.
Eugenio Montale once remarked that poetry survives because it is remembered with affection or from necessity. It says a great deal for the seven poets under review here (there are selections from the work of five in Dedalus Introductions) that such a high proportion of their poems stick like burrs to the memory, of this reader at least.
Clairr O'Connor's collection of thirty-seven poems draws generally from her experience as a writer who is also a wife and mother. Many of them are set in the United States, where she has lived and worked, and the volume ends with a series of sympathetic and moving evocations of individuals, ranging from her mother to the Russian writer, Irena Ratushinskaya, who have touched on her experience in different ways. I found 'Zebrugge', on a mother who had lost a child in the ferry disaster, and 'Listening to Cindy', about a woman facing the aftermath of a masectomy, the most powerful of these. But their particular power also reveals O'Connor's most striking qualities. Take 'Lace', for example, which charts the changing graph of feeling in the life of a couple who have moved into an old house in need of renovation, and does so with precisely sensuous verbal detail and a striking blend of passion and control in the line-by-line movement of the poem: "We filled it with soft explosions/of summer, lacemakers together.fLater, where peacocks once blazed/forest greens, we moved in camouflage/to fight the wind, the winter." The same qualities - the transfer of the given emotion to delicately evocative and beautifully-shaped images define her most haunting poems: 'Snake Eye' ("Fear slouches off/his skin and lodges/in my eye-sockets;/the guest, shifteyed/ophidian, secures/his habitation"), 'Sick Child' ("I will myself/to remember/to feel/your kicked answer/spear me through/in affirmation/of your place/when you swam/in my safe waters"), the disturbingly raw 'Burning', and a whole cluster of other pieces
other pieces simply as they come to hand 'My Moon-Red Clock' 'New House', 'Another Space', 'Long Dista~ce' ... '
. "When our heads bend,/We kiss./We excite the deerlIn her qUIet wood,/We draw ~he hare~rom his burrow" - reading this, near the e?d of !o Slade s collectlOn of twenty-six poems, one senses that t~e. gift which could b~ng such lines to light is the real thing. A stn~mgly l~~ge proportIOn of her poems possess the eerie, dramatIc qualItIes of fable or allegory, blending an at times otherworldly remoteness with a palpable hypnotic charge. They ~ead - for !TIe at least - as deeply imagined enactments of the melu~table hfe and persistence of the spirit, celebrations in fact of the h~e of t~e imagi?ation itself, of its sometimes exhilarating, so~etIm~s ~~sconcertmg transforming power upon the self. 'The ~nsoner (I have created new patterns./Nothing in the frrmament!ls as it was before"), 'Fish Bird', 'Woman Clothed With The Sun', 'The Song of the Earth', 'Survival' (where the echo of a disappearing sw~n's ~all "Remains inside me./Somewhere under my annsf;I can feel Its wmg span and/My oiled feathers separate") and the tItle poem of her collection are simply the most notable ex~m~les. C~aracteristicalIy, they tend to end strongly, often ravlshmg,ly, as If to underline the release or the epiphany which has be~n achIeved. The qualities of personal and imaginative character whic~ these poems test and sharpen rise magnificently to the painful occaSlOn ,0: the longest and most moving poem in the book, 'Certain Octobers , I~ ~emory ?f one of her children: it is a courageous and utterly convmcmg achIevement, a hauntingly memorable aria of loss and love which refuses the consolation of anything less than ~hatever t~e capacity to articul~te such an experience may bring
( he left qUIetly/as a mouse .... HIS rib.' my bone gone to the purple earth/And to the sky, pure whIte of wmter'slDrift").
Th~ most rewarding experiences for me upon reading Dedalus IntroductIons 1 were the discovery of the work of Rita Connolly and J0!m Grenham, and of the most maturely poised and impressive P?em 10 the whole anthology, Mark Hutcheson's 'The Last Days of
.·Pieter de Hoogh', a dramatically vivid evocation of the dichotomies and.ambiguities in the relationship between life and art (the poem is ~edl~ated to Derek Mahon, whose 'The Courtyards in Delft' was mspIre~ by the 1659 painting of that name by de Hoogh).
•..••.. Rita Connolly's work is very striking. Beautifully crafted _ ~the s~ooth, exact movement of line and stanza defining the ~mergmg experience with rare delicacy - her best poems read as if
Page 108, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 28