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.

Home Uncategorized Many Rooms, Many Doors

Many Rooms, Many Doors

Hugh O’Donnell
Fish on a Bicycle: New & Selected Poems, Jean O’Brien, Salmon Poetry, 130 pp, €12, ISBN: 978-1910669587 To arrive at a “New & Selected Poems” is more than an endorsement: it is a literary event to be celebrated, the outlining of a significant oeuvre. Jean O’Brien’s “Fish on a Bicycle” ‑ its title accompanied by a surreal Kevin McSherry image of an anglefish on a two-wheeler ‑ gathers together almost a hundred poems from four earlier collections and two chapbooks written over three decades. A short review cannot do it justice. The title derives from the epigraph to her poem “Flying Fish” – “A woman needs a man like / a fish needs a bicycle” (Irena Dunn) – more love poem than feminist polemic, describing an encounter that takes the twosome out of their element. Being out of one’s element works like a trope throughout, with fish and water an undertow in the collection as a whole. A more recent poem, “Out of His Element”, has a trout who has leaped onto a bank in his drive upstream and now “lies drowning in air”. There are dangers in being out of one’s element; even psychologically. In “Drowning at Sherkin”, for instance, a young man’s neatly folded clothes belie the tragedy; in “K2 Mountain”, Alison Hargreave, who died on the mountain, is commemorated with a sideways reference to the narrator’s distraught mother – “some days she simply has to climb a mountain”. But there are gains too. And many poems are about transitioning; from young to mature love, from childhood pre-knowing to “I’m outta here” (“Hatching the Vision”), from “appeasement” (“Staying with the Nuns”) to stargazing, being “unhitched, no longer bound” (“Watching for the Comet”). Given the title, it is not surprising that water appears in many guises; in “Skinny Dipping” with its “coming out” echoes and her comic riposte “It was the Immaculate Conception that did it”, to a woman washing ‑ ‘in splashes of light / she is a body of water” (‘Shaping Water’) ‑ to the impressive “On Shellinghill Beach”, where the voice is that of the buried and disappeared Jean McConville – “where I am is dank and dark though I feel / the constant motion of the oyster-catcher …” In 2010 “Merman” won the Arvon International Poetry Award, a layered poem in the voice of a mermaid who is “landed and pinned down” by a work colleague…

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