Danielle Holian’s brutal truth telling

Beautifully Chaotic by Danielle Holian (self published, 211pp, €12)

DANIELLE HOLIAN'S debut poetry collection, Beautifully Chaotic, is part of a boom in the popularity of poetry among young people – particularly young women – over the past few years.

Though the cranky old uncles and aunts of the literary right-wing will protest, poetry’s new found success in reaching parts of the population it never previously touched is a long overdue democratisation. It is an entirely good thing that a young, beginner poet such as Holian feels free to write, and share her poems about mental health, abusive relationships, being raped, and still managing to find hope.

Yes, it is true the work of some of most recent crop of Instagram and spoken word poetry stars lacks originality and metaphor, and pretends to a social and political courage which is largely illusory. Yet those few who have become famous as a result of a capitalism trying to cash in on the current poetry craze, should not blind us to the space that has been created for poets such as Holian – and many others – previously excluded from the stiff parlour game that has been the official poetry scene in this part of the world since the deaths of Shelley and Byron.

'Holian’s poetry has a severe honesty, sometimes pursued to the point of necessary brutality'

In the end, every poet stands or falls on the quality of her poems. In ‘Monster’, Holian shows a nice gothic touch, and her opening imagery is sharp: “When I see them walking among us/I see danger/A cemetery with my dead body laying there.” This third line startles because the reader really believes she did see her own dead body there and we share in her shock.

There is a brutal truth telling in some of her shorter poems which really works, though the style may be naïve. ‘Compliment Battle’ is particularly successful is this regard: “Before/I felt I had to/Spread my legs/Open my heart/And shut my mouth/Whenever a man complimented me.” The clinching final line of ‘The Bleak Aftermath’ has a searing honesty which could not but be poetic: “The way he left/Told me everything/I needed to know/About the person, I slept beside/In the dead of the night/Scared out of my mind.”

In places, such as in the two line ‘Artist’ “My heart and mind align in perfect times/To remind me I am an artist," she does descend to the pseudo-aphoristic emptiness that is the trademark of the Instagram poets, but it is an unsurprising thing to see a young poet mimicking the fashions of her time. More often, Danielle Holian’s poetry has a severe honesty, sometimes pursued to the point of necessary brutality, which marks her out from those who write poetry simply in the hope it will make them famous.


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