I FIRST met Maureen Gallagher in the summer of 1985 on a protest outside Dunnes Stores’ Terryland branch in support of the workers at the Henry Street branch, Dublin, who were on strike because one of them had been sacked for refusing to handle South African goods.
Maureen has been an activist and member of a small Trotskyist group for almost three decades now. The poems in her new collection, Calling The Tune (Wordsonthestreet ), divide into three general categories: political poems, love poems, and erotic poems.
Her political poems cover everything from clerical sexual abuse - ‘December Rain’ and ‘Shrouding A Crime’ - and the now apparently dead parrot of the Salthill Airshow - ‘The Airshow’ - to our current rather unpleasant economic situation - ‘Subprime’: “the man climbs into a bin on a cold night/in September, the month of late strawberries/and blueberries from the US where subprime/lending pulls banks down around its ankles/and the wealthy psychologist bleats on air/to please not worry about nursing homes/or alienating sons who fear they’ll be left/to pick up the tab if Northern Rock/goes belly-up like the homeless man…”
Now, it is undeniably true that the far left have spent decades dreaming of the sort of ‘crisis of capitalism’ we are currently going through; it is all Joe Higgins’s fantasies come true. Maureen’s book was published in December and even these few months later the “if” in “if Northern Rock/goes belly-up” is a word from a lost golden age. There are no such ‘ifs’ anymore.
My one big quibble with Maureen’s poetry is that, when writing about politics, the irony that is generally her trademark tends to give way to a ‘we are right and that’s the end of it’ tone reminiscent of the political speeches of Vanessa Redgrave.
Irony is the best possible insurance policy against the totalitarianism which is still rampant on the far left. To be blunt, despite everything, give me Seanie Fitzpatrick any day, if the only alternative is a one party dictatorship led by Joe Higgins or Kieran Allen, chief guru of the Socialist Workers Party.
The poems in which Maureen faces the vicissitudes of love going wrong are much stronger. ‘No Strings’ is up there with the best work of Carol Ann Duffy: “I encouraged you/to write your/own world.//You did that/but ended up with/more characters/than space.//So you cut me down from chapter/to paragraph/to sentence/to full/stop.//Then being modern,/you dispensed with/punctuation/altogether.”
Maureen’s two eating-as-sex poems, ‘There’s A Peach In The Fridge’ and ‘On The Subject Of Eating Cake Creatively’ are perfect satires on the sexual incompatibility of men and woman. The voice in both poems is the sort one might expect to hear in an instructional video and the effect is hilarious.