Poetry from Warrenpoint to the Kalahari Desert

Heat Signature by Siobhan Campbell (€12, Seren) and Lilac and Gooseberries by Aoife Reilly (€10, Lapwing)

THOUGH THERE is much that separates them as poets, Siobhan Campbell and Galway based Aoife Reilly share an unsentimental earthiness about the human body which few of their male counterparts manage to put into words.

In ‘Woman Poem’ Reilly writes “We shed blood/without violence. While, in ‘Concentration’ Campbell remembers: "The scrape of the potty from under the bed/would wake the dead. My grandaunt’s squat/of balance as she aims, hitching a flannel nightdress/high enough to miss its faded pinkness."

The poems come from the new collections, Lilac and Gooseberries by Aoife Reilly (published by Lapwing ) and Heat Signature by Siobhan Campbell (published by Seren ).

Though she has lived for many years in Britain, Ireland remains Campbell’s primary subject. ‘The Blessing’ is like an RS Thomas poem that has been rewritten by Pat McCabe or David Lynch. The narrator and friends meet a freshly ordained priest on the bend of a country road. He offers “to give us his first blessing,/just ordained that hour with no-one to celebrate.” This newly made cleric meets his end when “Just at the Amen, the Ford transit van hurtled/round the corner…”

Another striking feature of Campbell’s poetry is that she is one of our most quotable post-Heaney poets. ‘Ravens’ opens with the killer couplet: “Ravens in their ruaile buailie hear the tick of season-turning trees/they colonise like something moral to be despised.” And in her fine rewrite of Bertolt Brecht’s ‘War has been given a bad name’ she shows that she can do satire too: “But they do say we should attend the Let go/and Forget sessions, coupons free with national newspapers.”

The fact Campbell chooses Brecht as a model marks her out, for he was probably the greatest poet of the 20th century, though the decaying Clintonoid post-liberals who dominate literary discourse will not tell you that, as they cannot forgive him his anti-capitalism.

Aoife Reilly may be a less experienced poet than Campbell, Lilac and Gooseberries is her debut, yet in ‘Traffic’ she transports us, in the twist of line, from what, to most of her readers, will seem a mundane landscape to somewhere else altogether: “I could be anywhere/when I drive across/the plains of North Galway/even say, the Kalahari”. It’s a long way from Dunmore to Kalahari, but not if you travel via an Aoife Reilly poem.

A desire for authenticity – not an easy thing to find in a world in which Rosanna Davison is some people’s favourite philosopher - emerges in these poems. In ‘I Want’, she writes [I want] “that smile/not the jaw clenching “grand”/give me the real you/with a freezing Atlantic dive of pleasure”. In ‘Unsymmetrical Slices’, she part pleads, part demands “Please give me a man/who is prepared to grab me, not his keys,/if the world decides to crack”. Reilly’s poems are in love with the inherent messiness of life, for that is where she finds the poetry.

Lilac and Gooseberries by Aoife Reilly will be launched at the May Over The Edge Writers’ Gathering at The Kitchen café, Galway City Museum, on Friday May 12 at 8pm. Also reading will be Art Stringer, Ron Houchin, Lorna Shaughnessy, and Marie Cadden. All are welcome and admission is free.


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