A Break in the Journey, by Anne Haverty, New Island, 74 pp, €13.95, ISBN: 978-1848406728
For a writer who says she “writes poetry as an aside” (in an interview with Kim Bielenberg in the Irish Independent), Haverty sure packs it in; her journey takes us on a coruscating ride, tumbling with deftness, humour, irony and precision through history and Eastern Europe, with poems about vodka, life, love –and back to earth with a bump in Tipperary.
Anne Haverty joined the Irish literary scene quietly, having been educated at Trinity College, Dublin and the Sorbonne in Paris. She wrote a biography of Countess Constance Markievicz, politician, revolutionary and suffragette (re-issued in 2016). She mentioned in an interview with writer Evelyn Conlon that she chose to write about Markievicz because she was the woman she knew least about, a statement that captures her intellectual curiosity and willingness to write about subjects in a quirky, honest and eloquent way.
Her first novel, One Day as a Tiger, made a noisier entry, winning the Rooney Prize for literature and being shortlisted for the 1997 Whitbread Award. A Break in the Journey, dedicated to her husband, intellectual and poet Anthony Cronin, who died in 2016, is her second collection of poetry, her first being The Beauty of the Moon (1999). The title poem of this latest collection comes from a seemingly simple poem that needs a re-read, with its quiet last lines:
You’d need the break, she said.
A break in the journey.
And Haverty does indeed take us on a journey through a tumult of emotions, from pathos, despair and all the way through to joy and joie de vivre, for she urges us to acknowledge how lucky we really are, as in her wry and witty poem “Oh, Our Fragile Lives”:
Still, behind it all, behind
The misery of the not-warm,
We know, we’re strangely confident
That the gas repairman must soon come.
Haverty gets the big things in little things – small ideas become big, as her poems recognise how we blow up small happenings; she is good at putting words on the travails of life and reminds us in her wry way that we are lucky. Her poem “Poemless” says:
Resigned as a guest
in a bad hotel – after
giving us two, when you looked
over and found us watching,
the two fingers.
Derek Mahon called her “A singing voice for ‘our dejected age’”, and we are glad to hear that voice. Haverty herself has said that if she hadn’t been a writer she would have been a farmer; she writes with sympathy and precision of country life, her poem about a lamb bred and bound for slaughter called “Poor Ladeen” has the evocative lines:
… to his little sojourn
in an upland field
hung between sea-cliff
and mountain rock
between new grass
and the butchers block.
And then to the humane and haunting depiction of a (possible) bachelor farmer who never strayed far from the home fields in “At the Pier”:
The old itch.
To take off.
Anywhere at all
only it be far.
… From the milk
souring in the jug.
We go straight from the Irish countryside to India: later she will transport us to Armenia, Russia, Asia and back to Ranelagh and Grafton Street, but for now a longer poem set in two parts in “India”. The poem moves from the imagined luxury hotel to “faces released / from the extravagant / smiles / they paid out all day / to put together / rupees enough to buy / this night’s supper … they are not / accepting this”. Haverty perceptively teases out the idea of the smiling server, who behind the smile know this inequality is wrong and is not accepting of it.
Overall this book is optimistic on Europe and on life, but is not blind to the downside, recognising that we in the West are lucky to live here. Her poem the “Beds of Europe” is a clever depiction of how important it is to us with all of its benefits and how it will survive and perhaps answer to Brexit.
Haverty has a short sequence of poems to vodka – sure why not? Vodka, as providing all that is needed in life – solving all life’s problems big and little. A short introductory explanation from “‘Corn’ by A. Havertova (1932)” includes the words: … it assumes … the form of any necessity of life, food, heat, comfort and forgetfulness …
Haverty’s own poem from the sequence “Vodu 4” exhorts us:
For any affliction,
Hunger, cold, or little Kolya’s pain,
For any external of internal reaction
But we won’t leave there; instead I would rather tell you of the hope in her work, the acceptance of life, the striving for personal peace and refer back to the quote from Dylan Thomas that is the title of this review with the last lines of Haverty’s short and pithy poem “Grief”:
Even in grief
we can love.
Jean O’Brien is a poet. Her latest collection, her New & Selected Fish on a Bicycle was published by Salmon in 2016 and is currently being reprinted. She was a recipient of the Katherine & Patrick Kavanagh Fellowship 2017/18.