TOM FRENCH'S fifth collection, The Last Straw (The Gallery Press ) exudes a deep sense of warmth even before it is opened. The painting illustrating the cover, Sunset, by Sadie Mackie, invites the reader to open the book and to revel in its content.
In the opening lines of the first poem, 'The Last Light', French lays out his stall: “Everything that can be is disconnected./Our fire dies. The starlings nested/in the eaves, have settled. We have cut/the hour adrift to sleep. Now, before// I turn the key, listen again to my life."
With the generosity of the good host, French brings the reader into his life, home, and ethos, a fascinating journey moving from the midlands to a holiday in Costa Blanca to a curious section entitled 'After Hours' which is a pub crawl around Ireland.
Perhaps one of the more singular and delightful aspects of the collection is the prevalence of the sonnet form, all exquisitely executed. Like the true jazz musician, he tests the format by pushing it to its limits, giving it a new life, yet retaining its traditional role to the point where there are faint echoes of the Shakespearian sonnet.
The most remarkable of these sonnets, and one that deserves to be included in every future anthology of Irish poetry, is 'Bank': “There was a rhythm to the cut and catch./He cut. You looked. He swung. It flew. You caught./He cut. You looked. He swung. It flew. You caught --/A form of talk that obviated talk.// Work made all speech useless, so the silence/ entered into us and passed between us/ and became, with each spit, one spit deeper,/a ghost bank growing on the spreading ground.//When it came to it in the funeral parlour,/unsure as yet our job of work was done,/I could not keep my two eyes of him,/ not to be caught at the end of his swing/in case he had one last good swing in him."
The second last poem in the aforementioned 'Afterhours', includes these lines: “A woman stands and announces – ‘I won’t go back to Limerick, /and nobody can make me’ - //then resumes her seat, her drink./ And we, in our silence, drink/ to not going back and raise,//in our hearts, our glasses/ to nobody being forced to go/ anywhere they do not want to,//until peace reigns again/ in the whole of The Crane Bar/ and in The Little Crane”.
Of these magic moments is Galway made. The Last Straw is full of warmth, generosity and humanity, the work of a true poet.
Tom French reads at the Nuns Island Theatre on Friday April 27 at 5pm, along with violinist Danny Diamond, as part of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature. Tickets are available via www.cuirt.ie and the Town Hall Theatre (091 - 569777, www.tht.ie ).