Nothing to lose in getting dressed

I OWE the world a confession: this book came perilously close to not happening because, when Susan Lindsay joined one of the poetry workshops I facilitate at Galway Arts Centre, way back in January 2005, I almost put her off poetry for life.

Having come along to the first workshop of the term, I have it on good authority that Susan very nearly didn’t return the following Tuesday. At the time I was pretty new to conducting writing workshops.

The fact that Susan persisted – and is to this day a participant in the poetry workshops at 47 Dominick Street - is evidence that she has personal qualities which would serve any poet well: she is always willing to learn and conscious of the fact that others are learning too.

For her, poetry is about playing with the words until something is revealed. The journey is everything, the destination something she knows is mostly out of her hands. Those who think that one becomes a poet by writing one prize winning poem, or by swanning around the place pretending to be cool, serious, or angry about the state of the world, could learn much from her.

Reading her debut collection Whispering The Secrets (Doire Press ), two things become obvious. The first is that there is hardly a word out of place. These poems have been through the workshop mill and so every line has been weighed and considered. The other thing that hits you is what a versatile poet Susan Lindsay has grown to be.

‘Silk Tulips’ is a perfect lyric about one of those days when the only thing you want to do is hide under the duvet: “On the left edge of inner sight/a fairy godmother/gently suggests/there’s nothing to lose/in getting dressed.”

The collection also includes three multi poem sequences. My personal favourite is the wonderfully negative mantra ‘Commitment’ from the ‘Late Loves’ sequence:

“No commitment to the first call of cuckoo/heard last Sunday morning/No commitment to being here when you don’t call/No commitment to understanding,/absolutely no commitment to that…”

Elsewhere, a title such as ‘Francis Bacon and Samuel Menashe by Strange Coincidence’ makes clear that this is a collection of considerable intellectual ambition, while ‘Hags Dancing over Doorways’ shows there’s a sense of humour at work too.

Susan doesn’t like to spoon feed or pander to the reader, but prefers to allow us, and occasionally to force us, to think for ourselves. Sometimes it seems that her ideal poem would be one that functions as a kind of Rorschach spot on which each reader’s subconscious is free to impose its own meaning.

Personally, I prefer the poems with strong personality to her more abstract work. ‘Threat’, for example, could only have been written by Susan Lindsay and is so much better for it: “Confused cells multiply/like rampant weeds/in an orderly garden./Maybe aggressive killers are necessary./I’d prefer to root them out organically/ to crowd them out with flowers.”

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