Out of the Ordinary, by Moya Roddy, Salmon Poetry, 70 pp, €12, ISBN: 978-1912561131
Of course poetry is personal, and personally I’ve always tended to lean more comfortably towards poetry that doesn’t build a wall between the writer and reader. Having said that, standards have to be kept, insofar as there’s a difference between a diary page and poem, between a thought bubble and a well-crafted stanza.
What Moya Roddy achieves in her book Out of the Ordinary is exactly what the title suggests. Her simple yet poignant poems speak directly to the reader, and the collection deservedly made the shortlist for the 2018 Shine Strong Award. Many of the poems are short without leaving anything unsaid, but if anything, they leave you just slightly frustrated as you wish you knew the characters in question.
This is a deeply personal collection (with a dedication to the poet’s mother) and one you can imagine was a long time coming. The majority of poems in this book are memories of both the near and distant past. And although they are indeed personal, Roddy never excludes the reader; on the contrary, she almost invites us into her life, into her living room, to walk on the beach with her; to flick through her photo album and compare the pictures to her choice of words.
Reading “Picking Blackberries”, those of us brought up in the country will pause mid-poem and write our own, such is the blast-from-the-past subject matter: “my brothers and me / stalk out likely dens, bagsing them as / though we owned the world”. “St Luke´s Gospel” is equally evocative for those of us schooled in De La Salle colleges or convents of anything but mercy: “I´m sitting at a narrow desk – / Sister Ignatius breathing / down my neck.”
The first twenty-four pages comprise snapshots of youth; each poem a Polaroid of the narrator’s upbringing. As we move on, we follow her into the physical landscape of adulthood. If there are two perfect poems in this collection they are “That Kind of Weather” and “The Art of Knowing”. In the former, Roddy draws a line in the sand between those who go looking for metaphors and those for whom metaphors announce themselves with little or no fanfare: “Everyone seems to be writing a frozen lake poem – / it´s that kind of weather: metaphor trapped / beneath the surface, a clear attraction.” In the latter, we feel that the shift is coming – that the narrator is moving us from the memories of the past to the realisation that her life is now rooted to the ordinary present and its serene sense of acceptance: “These days, I wake all hours; / without watch or clock, / mobile switched to off, / I´ve no way of knowing.”
In the succeeding poems, Roddy presents us with poetry that is straight out of the ordinary, a refreshing reminder that not every poem needs to be an epic, complicated, deep analogy of something or another; the kind that make open mics up and down the country the stuff of nightmares. Poems such as “Scraps” see Roddy step into the role of her mother: “I´m at my best with scraps of paper, / backs of envelopes, torn-off edges. / It´s in the blood.” In “She´s Leaving Home”, the maternal voice sounds a bell and gently reminds us that those things that once drove us mad will in time come to be missed: “Could this be what it boils down to – / coats no longer flung on couches, / half-eaten sandwiches left / mouldering in lunch boxes –”.
“Relativity” is reminiscent of Eavan Boland´s “Outside History”, but unlike Boland´s comparison of the time it takes light to travel across the universe and our actions (“We are late. We are always too late”), Roddy is somewhat optimistic: “Later, in rush-hour traffic, / I slow down, create space, / wave a car out from a side-turning. / The driver flashes, I flash back, / feel a small glow.”
And it is with these flashes in mind that the end of the book arrives prematurely. If at any point you thought the book was winding down with fillers – any old poem thrown in for the sake of filling a book – you would be mistaken. Poems such as “Evolution”, “The First Time I saw my Mother” and the intensely emotive “Curtain Call” reinstate the theme we discovered earlier on in the book. The poet´s mother drifts through these pages every few poems or so, an appearance here, a wave there, in much the same way Roddy suggests her life may have panned out: “All her life she had passed unnoticed, / tending husband, children; / washing sheets that grew thinner and thinner.”
There is a lot to learn from these poems, which is the difference between writing a personal collection and excluding the reader, and writing in such honesty that we feel as if we can take some of these auguries and find a place for them in our everyday routines. “Watermark” wonderfully brings closure to a collection well worth reading. If anything, it´s one of the more visually striking poems in the book and confirms to the readers that this is a poet who is at ease in the silence of her surroundings, waiting for the poetry to come to her; unlike the impatient among us, stomping on that aforementioned frozen lake, desperately hoping for a crack.