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 Not the Cartographer of Guilt

Not the Cartographer of Guilt

Mark Wasserman
Stopgap Grace, by Neil McCarthy, Salmon Poetry, 78 pp, €12.00, ISBN: 978-1912561070 Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of hearing the poet Neil McCarthy read his work aloud, including audiences in the states, the UK, Central Europe and Asia, tends to remember the experience. Equal parts showman and shaman, McCarthy stalks the stage, reciting his work from memory, pouring forth both wit and wonder. One moment he is mocking politically correct restaurants, expecting to hear that “my bacon / had come from a happy pig, one that had had a full life, / was corn fed and had free range, did yoga in the mornings, / played the cello, spoke Latin and / learned to salsa dance while visiting relatives in Cuba”. The next moment he is growing reverential, holding a finger to his lips in order to “silence the misguidance of our Gods”. There is a reason McCarthy was once offered the role of Dylan Thomas in an off-Broadway production. Listeners may wonder how McCarthy’s work might come across on the page. They needn’t. Stopgap Grace, his exhilarating debut collection, not only captures his voice but deepens it. After a nostalgic opening poem about Ireland, during which he confesses surprise at missing “the sound of church bells, / reminding me of my sudden apostasy”, he is off to parts unknown. Escape is the operative word here, McCarthy’s imagination a “stolen Cadillac”. Perpetually on the move, he seems grateful for the opportunity, wondering “who’d have thought we’d be here; that we’d / have made it from the orchards of Carinthia to a café in Denver, splitting a bagel, watching the / shift in seasons defrock the trees”. If there is a whiff of Catholicism in these lines, it feels faint. The narrator insists he is “not the cartographer of guilt”. The road is his crucible, a place to “suffer penance through hunger and wait”. His poetry is powered by the sheer delight of travel which, like the act of writing, is guided by curiosity and creativity. Sometimes the two activities converge, as when the narrator recalls how he and his travel companion would “word those streets like a Scrabbleboard, / finding the lexis as we went, sometimes stuttering, / other times free flowing and cavalier”. Road-wearying challenges that would burden other travelers – linguistic isolation, geographical confusion, unfriendly locals, overly friendly locals – only awaken McCarthy’s wiseacre side. After noting…

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