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 Pushing against the Corset

Pushing against the Corset

Afric McGlinchey
Monica’s Overcoat of Flesh, by Geraldine Clarkson, Nine Arches Press, 80 pp, €12, ISBN: 978-1911027935 Poetry challenges the mind to consider each word in terms of connotation rather than merely referent, to hear the music of the whole poem as a symphony rather than simply attempting to unravel secret meanings. The extent to which poets play on this use of language varies enormously, but in this distinctive debut, the reader is in for a feast of juxtaposition, unusual metaphor and conceit, highly charged lines and double entendres. Using wit as a palate cleanser, Clarkson guides the reader through sensations and emotional turbulences even when narrative layers and autobiographical details are kept deliberately opaque. Although this is a debut collection, the multi-award-winning Clarkson has already established a reputation for her sparkling, Hopkins-like sprung rhythm. (One poem, “neversaid”, is after Hopkins). She has also previously published three chapbooks with Shearsman: Declare (a Poetry Society pamphlet choice), 25 and Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament, and many of those poems reappear here. Her work has been broadcast and published widely in the UK, and as testament to her exceptional talent, no fewer than five poems have already appeared in Poetry Magazine (Chicago). Another chapbook, Crucifox, is forthcoming from Verve in 2021. English-born, with a strong Irish heritage, Clarkson spent a decade in a cloistered community in Peru, where silence was practised and creative writing was disallowed. But it certainly laid the groundwork for rich material. Almost from the outset, we are aware of a hidden story: “I was interred there for dry-throated reasons, / for years” (“Nuns Galore”). The title is echoed in the titles of the three sections of the collection ‑ [monikers], [overcoat], [flesh] ‑ establishing Clarkson’s fondness for wordplay. A child called Monica is also alluded to in the eponymous poem, and later, “I asked for Monica outside a bar” (“Nutmeg, America”) and so the three sections could be interpreted as suggesting “identification”, “the hidden”, and “bare (thin-skinned) exposure”, although only a peephole is allowed. No poem here is without a second or third layer, not even the seemingly slight opening poem, which captures a fleeting moment where the speaker enters a cafe off the Panamericano and asks, in faltering Spanish, for the loo. “Las Damas?” The scene is set, complete with dogs (threat), desert (a glimpse only, before the door slams shut), and consciousness of language (not “the more neutral word”, but “Ladies”, a particularly feminine…

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