Susan Lindsay’s linguistic and other challenges

Milling the Air by Susan Lindsay, published by Doire Press (87pp €12).

Susan Lindsay.

Susan Lindsay.

SUSAN LINDSAY'S gorgeously produced third collection of poems, Milling The Air, published by Doire Press, is a book which asks more questions than it answers. And this is no accident, but a deliberate strategy by Lindsay.

Her poems have a rare sophistication and wit – both thematically and linguistically – which on occasion call to mind the work of Canadian TS Eliot Award winner Anne Carson, more than it does of any of Lindsay’s Irish contemporaries. Where others would prescribe pat answers, she throws down challenges, especially to herself.

In ‘I Am A Disappointment’, she pleads guilty to disappointing not only the unnamed “you” she is addressing “but principally...myself/the many times I fail/to live up to expectations/I’d rather not have.” Just as she appears to be in danger of wandering into banality, Lindsay springs a surprise. The result is a slightly off-key voice impossible not to listen to, such as in the glorious ‘Hell-Bent On Failure’ which explodes eccentrically onto the page in its first stanza: “If only/one could fail/spectacularly, in glory – /though not on a cross,/please God.”

'In the current vexed global political context, Lindsay’s is a rare voice. Neither utopian nor catastrophist. In her poems life goes on'

Lindsay sometimes seems to magic up poems from the thinnest air. In ‘No Poem’ she writes a really first class poem, full of sideways insights into contemporary international politics, academia, and contemporary feminism. She wrote this poem, not as others would pretend, if it were their poem, to rescue by poetic means the “two women poets from Mullingar” or the “Palestinian woman [whose] story was written by a man” from the hounds of patriarchy and imperialism but “because I needed a poem for a [poetry] workshop”.

This is not to say Lindsay is a poet unengaged with the bitter realities around her. In ‘Shall We Get Swept Away By Lunchtime’, she tackles in her deadly matter-of-fact way what we, or rather they, are doing to our increasingly frail planet. Rather than engage in the sort of useless virtue signalling which dominates much liberal-leaning political poetry right now, Lindsay is prepared to ask the most difficult question, and to risk sounding, at least in the opinion of some, a little harsh.

In ‘To The Fathers of Children Born In Institutions’ she rather savagely asks: “How was it that week/watching the names roll down the screen?” Ultimately, Lindsay errs on the side of empathy, but it is an admirable trait of her poetry that there is no question it will not ask. In ‘Ireland, 2030’ Lindsay sets her imaginative sights on the near future when “The drone/in the air/is delivering your post/ – online supplies,/medicine.”

In the current vexed global political context, Lindsay’s is a rare voice. Neither utopian nor catastrophist. In her poems life goes on. Or it does not. There are no neat endings or silver bullets. Others, typically dudes in mouldy berets and ingénues with over-done fringes, may like to lay claim to the mantle, but if avant-garde means anything, Susan Lindsay is it.

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