Safe houses and wardrobe doors

THE MINING Road is Leanne O’Sullivan’s third poetry collection, published by Bloodaxe, and an achievement given she is just 30.

O’Sullivan is the sort of poet who excites middle aged failures, and not always in a good way. A real poet, we are told, should be crotchety and bitter and able to bore for Ireland on the origins of the pantoum which, since you ask, is a type of poem and not, as I thought when I first heard the word, an item of women’s underwear.

Such people should of course be urgently reminded that Keats was dead before his 26th birthday. O’Sullivan is neither crotchety nor, as far as I can tell, bitter. She is though a poet whose work shows increasing maturity, while retaining the urgency it has always had.

She keenly examines the past in a way that is profoundly unsentimental. ‘Safe House’ is a fantastic poem about a young boy who accidentally shot himself with a revolver belonging to IRA men who were being sheltered by his parents: “When they were beginning to build a country.”

It is decided that the best way to deal with this tragedy, which can under no circumstances be revealed to the authorities, is to “Tell them there never was a child.” This is history unsanitised, the mucky way wars of liberation we like to think of as pure and heroic were actually fought.

O’Sullivan takes a similar approach to more mundane histories. ‘Love Stories’ is a witty poem about an old couple who appear to have enjoyed their fights:

“Him bowed/into the ceremonies of the newspapers,/the sound would be of her slamming/closed the cupboard doors, the front door,/cups and plates smashed into the deep sink/like a sudden downpour of hailstones.”

This collection confirms O’Sullivan as a poet whose work is always just a cut above most of the rest.

Accurate Measurements is Adam White’s debut collection and is published by Doire Press. It confirms what those familiar with White’s work have known for some time - he is an absolute original.

Though he rose up via the performance poetry route, he has never been given to roaring at microphones or removing items of clothing to enhance his metaphors. His work as a carpenter greatly influences his approach to poetry.

The title poem opens thus: “No one ever got the hanging of a door right/first time round. That’s what makes it beautiful/to go back to time and again.”

The poem ends on a tenderly satirical note: “Some carpenters/hang their best door in a bathroom, others shine/in toilets, mindful of all those who will sit there/later, relieving themselves, taking it all in.”

Each of these poems has clearly been gone back to time and again. In ‘Graduand’, ‘Strike!’, ‘Estwing’ and ‘Chainsaw’ he writes with a rare absence of cynicism about his work, which he clearly loves and not merely because it sometimes puts bread on his plate.

The master finish poem of the collection though, for me, is the quietly hilarious ‘Her and that Wardrobe’: “At first glance that wardrobe was good for firewood.”

The carpenter’s skill and persistence rescues said wardrobe from the terminal ward and he imagines “Her Saturday readying herself in/its glass”.

He knows of course that even the best patch up job does not last forever and, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’ll be back:

“The drawer always slightly open,/the flash and frill of unmentionables.//And won’t you return here in a year/to see the ass fallen from another drawer.”

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