Monday, 7 March 2011


... as an arch gives stone the power of flight,
the place where faith would give
the clay of flesh its flight...

The image is from an American poet standing in Chartres Cathedral, and it is in his first full-length collection (which comes from an Irish publisher which gives its address improbably as the Cliffs of Moher): Glenn Shea Find A Place That Could Pass For Home Salmon Poetry 2010.

I’ve had the collection with me during our time away in Amsterdam during Half Term and since, and I’ve marked up half a dozen poems in it in particular.

The more important image for him in this poem is not stone but human: a teenager at prayer

... his face hid in his hands, the muddle
of life outside pursuing him here as well...

and later exchanging the sign of the cross with a friend with dipped fingers from the Font, so that the poet too prays in the same muddle

... abject as any man is
in the weight of his faults, scanted
of hope, but who has seen at least the image
of what he desired: another like himself,
whose flesh he might inscribe
with the water of blessing.

I’m still dwelling on images such as this, and that of A Tree on Inishmore bent to permanent west with obeisance its trick for still being able to stand

... It leaves leaning
east against the wind to us.

But what remains with me most strongly is Sheep. He is in a Scottish hotel, aware

... hooves
that tap crossing the paved road
can stamp on fingers and will snap them
in a mothering rage...
... the thousandfold
brainless herd of the skittish...
... all you hear all night are the cries of the sheep,
the mothers and the young penned apart.

So far, so familiar. There are strong echos of the Ormulum (with its standard moral)

... it can cnawen swithe wel
it can know very well
his moder thaer gho blaeteth
his mother where she bleats
bitwenen an thusende shep,
among a thousand sheep
thoh that teg blaeten alle
although they all bleat
& all swa birth the cnawen wel
and so it befits you to know well
thin God & his lare
your God and his law.

Then I turn the page and find a simple connection which on its own made the collection worth buying and may change listening to sheep bleating from now onwards

... and who of us who have carried and buried
in the unnoticed ground of memory
all this miserable century’s images
of fences and separation,
the reaching hands’ failed attempts to touch...

I took the picture of the distant Cliffs of Moher six years ago from one of Inishmore's neighbouring islands.

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