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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Cut and Catch

Gerard Smyth
The Last Straw, by Tom French, Gallery Press, 104 pp, €12.50, ISBN: 978-1911337355 In this, his fifth collection, Tom French confirms himself as a celebrant of the local, particularly in Meath, where this Kilkenny-born, Tipperary-reared poet has settled and become a sui generis poet of that county. The local is of course transferable, as some titles of French poems in the past suggest – “A Water Trough in Monaghan”, “A Cauldron in Dunshaughlin”, “A Limousine in Carrigillihy”, “An Airman in Mornington”, “Automatic Telephone Exchange, Templetuohy”, “A Bible in Boyerstown”. But in whatever place he finds himself and wherever he draws from his imagination a poem, he is sure to know “every hump and hollow of it” and everything that he sees, hears or unearths is of consequence. While he moves much further afield in several of the poems in “The Last Straw”, enlarging his range and what might be called his world view, it is to such localism that he mostly stays true and which is the fruitful source of so much of his work – where else would he find … a Goth in the time before Goths, up on her bike from the back end of Clonboo In her house you knew that pestle and mortar were in daily use, that a skillet hung on a hook over flame. You felt that townlands were patches in her parish’s quilt. The presence of that “skillet hung on a hook” is an example of French’s fondness for imagery that might seem to represent an older Ireland: in another poem he resurrects that lovely old word “gossun” that I recall my grandmother using as an endearment. One of his titles, “Lockspit”, requires a dictionary definition, which he gives as an epigraph. That rescuing of what otherwise might be lost or fade from memory is a task that I suspect French respects and recognises as vital to the craft. So too are the poet’s duties of memorialising and remembrance. In “The Land Commission” he remembers the relocation of Irish speakers from the West to land in Meath as part of the seed-sowing for a new Gaeltacht in that county where in the poem an “old man resigned himself to being buried / among strangers”. The recognisable individuality and freshness of perspective that French established in previous books is again enlivened by his deep knowledge – local and universal – that allows him to penetrate…



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