Homespun consolation and ecstatic utterances

ALICE TAYLOR is best known for her memoir To School Through The Fields which, on its publication in 1988, rapidly became the best selling book ever published in Ireland.

Taylor is a writer who offers her readers the soft pillow of consolation rather than the disturbing realities one is typically hit with in the work of, say, John McGahern. Despite being a near contemporary of his and the fact that like him she has written a lot about the rural Ireland that was, Taylor is in every sense McGahern’s polar opposite.

McGahern did not believe in the good old days; Alice Taylor absolutely does. It’s not that she’s one of those backward glancing writers who, à la Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited, will always choose any rose tinted yesterday over the grey of today.

Reading the poems in Taylor’s new collection, The Journey: New And Selected Poems (Brandon ), it’s clear she is a true believer in the theory of the permanent good old days. She is a writer for whom the smiling never really stops.

‘Shreds of Hope’ is an example of how, for every problem, her homespun philosophy has its easy solution: “You came/Shrouded in shreds/Of fragile hope./Beneath them/Your sorrow/Lurked in shadows.//But your/Strands of hope/Will weave/A warm cloak/And you will/ Walk again.”

This poem is typical; its language on the far side of banal and as a result the hope it speaks of is difficult to believe in.

Gabriel Rosentock’s latest offering, Uttering Her Name (Salmon Poetry ), shares one thing in common with Alice Taylor’s in that the poems give us a world view that is essentially a religious one - although Rosenstock’s god is of a different variety.

On the back cover it is explained that the collection “consists of spontaneous, ecstatic utterances…a modern slant on those poems of intense devotion which are still read and sung in India today.”

Uttering Her Name contains a sequence of 110 such utterances and should not be consumed at one sitting. It could work for some as an accompaniment to daily meditation. Rosenstock has an ability to come up with striking images that force you to sit up and listen, whatever you may think of his Eastern philosophies.

For example in number 94: “Dar Óma/looking closely/at a vase of flowers/suddenly I saw Your skeleton/flesh ripped off/a grinning skull”.

Despite his occasional airiness, Rosenstock retains the ability to acknowledge that bad things are happening in the world. Number 90 is a protest against eco-vandalism: “they desecrate it/who do not know You tread this earth/who do not hear Your anxious footfall/behind the screams of forest flames/now all the little crawling/hopping things of the jungle/in unison/ utter Your name…”

Gabriel Rosenstock is a poet who takes the lonely path and goes his own way, as all real poets must, and for that he is to be admired.


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