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.
White Horses, by Jo Burns 92 pp, Turas Press, €12, ISBN: 978-0995791657 In her debut poetry collection, closely following the UK publication of her pamphlet Circling for Gods, Jo Burns ranges far and wide, circling the globe to reflect on occurrences in places as diverse as India, Germany, South Africa and Northern Ireland, shifting her gaze back and forth in time as she surveys the wreckage of a post-colonialist landscape. Born in Maghera in the 1970s, Burns belongs to the generation that grew up amidst the Troubles, coming of age in the tumultuous years leading up to the Good Friday Agreement. While new cohorts of Ulster poets have emerged from a society marked by a troubled peace, Burns remains firmly tied to a generation that has seen too much and is unable to forget: Admit it Ulster, the one thing you taught me – horizons can flourish over the blackest of ground. When trouble sinks into itself, bells spring up from bulbs in unlikely places. In “Hard Borders” she shifts her gaze towards the present moment: A poet spoke of his nation’s mind as bogland. That same home is mine and the nature of it was a border, every name a nerve and every Northern town a flag staked into sodden ground. … As if knotweed with its noxious seeds, and roots hard as knuckles, stretches deep through soil and peat. In the final stanzas of this poem, Burns subverts the purpose of coded language by combining terms in Irish and Ulster Scots while appealing to the ancient custom of handfasting: To split Dúchas from Hame is to abscond Summer to the cloth unravelling, around our hands held out to be again unbound. Although these lines drip with disappointment, Burns’s poetry often reflects a hopeful disposition, as shown by her generous appreciation of the final years of Martin McGuinness: A chief of staff took on an unimaginable role, conducting and notating symphonies, to fuse pitch and timbre in melody. The poem ends on a note worthy of consideration: “we’ve the right to be judged / by our last fermata and al fine note.” In another lengthy sequence of poems, Burns takes a novel look at the life of Pablo Picasso through the lens of male privilege. Her aim is not a takedown of a cultural icon whom she evidently admires, but rather to view the painter’s career from a modern perspective….
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