I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Cat Menagerie

Clíona Ní Ríordáin
Ghost of the Fisher Cat, by Afric McGlinchey, Salmon Poetry, 78 pp, €12, ISBN: 978-1910669396 Afric McGlinchey’s second collection, Ghost of the Fisher Cat, is firmly rooted in French terrain. The book is articulated around a central conceit – the eponymous fisher cat [le chat qui pêche], familiar of the fifteenth century alchemist Dom Perlet. The book’s cover reproduces an image of the black cat (credited to the graffiti artist Némo) and a note on page 76 informs the reader of the cat’s fate. Drowned by “vigilantes” in the Seine, the animal disappeared, as did his master, only for both to reappear some time later and return to their previous pursuits. Conjuring up the ghost of the fisher cat enables McGlinchey to pursue various cat-like poses and postures. The five sections of her collection each contain cat poems, like “Cat Music”, the first poem of the collection. This elongated series of unrhymed couplets traces the transformation of a “drownling” into catgut; the poem’s form mimics the process, concluding neatly with the ghost of the cat seeming to issue from a tuned instrument. The stray cat continues to prowl throughout the pages of the book. Sauntering through “Souvenir”, leading the poet to unexpected territory in “Leap”, recently spayed in “Tea with Tiresias”. “Le chat qui pêche” reappears both as a locale in “La Rue du Chat qui Pêche” and as a cat in the eponymous “Ghost of the Fisher Cat”, or in “Familiar”, voiced for the vigilantes, with the demise of the cat described in gruesome detail. The cat poems are frequently shaped by the movement of the cat itself; the poem “Hunters” wanders from one run-on line to the next, tracking the motion of the yelping cats’ mating game. Elsewhere, the crazy city cat of “A River of Familiars” pushes the couplets out of kilter. This poem, with its taxonomy of cats, comes closest to the playful spirit of TS Eliot’s celebrated Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, but McGlinchey’s cats are more whimsical and surrealistic, branding the poet narrator in “Scratch”, leaping with an energy that is inspired by Henri Bergson’s concept of élan vital, the “vital impulse” in a poem that mirrors the suggestive Matthew Hollis epigraph “I have a cat now. It comes in, it goes out.” The polished formal mastery of the cat poems summons up another French ghost for this reader, the shade of the poet Yves Bonnefoy,…

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