The Important Things, by Audrey Molloy, Gallery Press, 80 pp, €12.95, ISBN: 978-1911338024 (pbk), ISBN: 978-1911338031 (hbk)
Satyress, by Audrey Molloy, Southword Editions, 38 pp, €6, ISBN: 978-1905002719
While a few of Audrey Molloy’s poems afford glimpses of her family life in Sydney, her verse funnels out into a broader world. Narratives that describe dramatic natural settings reveal the poet’s sense of wonder inspired by a keen naturalist interest. Frequently, her poems encompass a sphere that includes her native Ireland and places in Europe and elsewhere. But all of that is merely a starting point, a prologue, since her poetic vision also expands into an interior world where anything is possible: alternative lived experiences, unknown passions, adventures not circumscribed by the social norms of her local community, and exploits that take place in an imagined past, present or future.
Molloy’s naturalist viewpoint and scientific bent coexist with an interest in the arts, humanities and world affairs, and with a sensibility for affairs of the heart. Her poetry squarely addresses the question “Can a woman living an ordinary life be a Renaissance man?” She shares with readers a world view in which our personal condition and life circumstances need not limit what we may imagine or accomplish. By sharing her vision she forms a bond with readers that is strengthened when she portrays herself in her formative years, coming of age during the 1970s on Ireland’s east coast. Give or take a few details, her story is ours too, an identification that recalls Whitman’s transcendental feelings expressed in Leaves of Grass: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume.” Molloy’s poetry reveals the place we all have in our lives for imagination and creativity – these need not be remote and separate domains.
While Molloy’s poetry occasionally depicts aspects of life in Australia, she remains essentially an Irish poet in terms of her identity and much of the content of her verse, an emerging writer with a strong presence in the Irish literary scene, who also displays an appreciative attitude towards her chosen home country.
In “The Apprentice”, she depicts her formative years as a schoolgirl friend tutors her in the mysteries of sexual experience:
We were playing a game called Musical Wives
and she was ahead. We sat in our bias-cut slips,
sipping vermouth in bare feet and lipstick,
and she told me his genitals looked different
when lying on his side, like the Tsar Pushka cannon
she saw in the Kremlin, with its half-cocked shaft
and squat wheels. It looks small but feels big, she said,
like a tooth when your tongue runs along it.
In “A Brief History of Smoking” Molloy portrays her early experimentation with adult behaviour in a way that comes to readers as a flash of recognition:
I blame Madonna. My fingerless gloves got me busted. Mother, always the fashionista, tried them on, held them to her cheek, blanched at the whiff of stale smoke and searched my room. The contraband, a pack of Drum (Milde Shag), was on my person as I followed her around, but she found it in the pocket of my blazer and burnt it in the Aga.
In the poignant and ironic “Envy Is a Day Lily”, Molloy’s writing recalls the tongue-in-cheek grace of American poet Billy Collins:
At the end of the street
behind the supermarket
where pretty houses peter out,
outside the torn fly-screen,
where a Cavalier King Charles
eyes you, head to one side.
You can’t answer his question,
but know this: someone
once looked upon your life
and wished it were theirs.
“Mood Rings” from the pamphlet Satyress is an essential Molloy poem exemplifying the poet’s characteristics as a writer: she is at once frank, playful, and ironic. Here are the first four stanzas:
There’s a mood on the way to melancholia
right before the slide, the tinkle of light
piano in a minor key, how the sun’s low angle
flatters your fickle hide,
how your face, reflected in a gallery window
looks momentarily like
Catherine Deneuve’s ‑ high cheekbones,
heavy eyelids shot in black and white.
The concluding stanzas of the poem evoke a shifting state of mind, as auditory cues and understated drama suggest moods ranging from contentment to melancholy.
One note from an oboe and this moment’s
the icing on the breeze block in your pocket
and you know that in the likely event
of free-fall there’s half a Valium in a locket
around your neck that you haven’t needed so far
and that’s reassuring; by now
you’re so calm your chest barely rises, barely falls
and your aura turns aqua as you slide into blue.
In “Elegy for a Limb”, Molloy focuses on details that evocatively portray a former partner. Without overtly describing her subject, she composes a sketch conveying a sense of the person and something of the story between them.
I’d forgotten how he takes his tea.
You’d think fourteen years would leave
an imprint as detailed as the fossil filaments
of a feather; the contours of his hands,
the half-moons of his fingernails.
Fingers are square, the jeweller said,
not round, so he made a four-sided ring,
white gold with a sapphire.
The children said he lost it in the sea.
In “What We Learned at Loreto”, Molloy evokes her early years with a vividness that brings the moment into clear focus:
Nothing useful, like how to apply fake tan
with a sports sock for an even finish
or the way to separate mascara-clotted
eyelashes with the stem of your earring.
Some simple rules would have been handy:
short hem or low-cut ‑ but never together,
and how to keep a bit of mystery.
Narrating poignant details from the bleary past, the poet forms a bond of recognition with readers as a receding world momentarily comes into sharp focus:
All that’s keeping me from swift death by lamp-post
is the dashboard clock churning up dates:
Ten fourteen, the Battle of Clontarf.
Eleven eleven, the Synod of Rathbreasail.
Twelve fifteen, the Magna Carta.
In “Flowering Cherry”, Molloy reaches further back, narrating in the opening lines of this poem a scene that occurs when her young parents-to-be are seeking to purchase their first home.
A tree can sell a house, the agent says,
when they view 10 Beech Drive as newlyweds.
Its shot-silk trunk stands so close to the hedge
its blossom carpet-bombs the street by May.
Come June, it casts lemonade shade as tar-
seams melt, stick to bare feet kicking cans
or skipping ropes slung between the footpaths,
grounded only for a passing car.
September’s red and ochre pot-pourri
of leaves will bank against the windowsills.
Boughs that vein the sky in winter will
be knobbed with sticky buds again by spring.
Four years my young mother sees it bloom
before my bud unfurls, pink, in her womb.
In “Sold a Pup”, dedicated to the memory of Anthony Minghella, Molloy deploys an ambiguous and well-modulated sense of irony to share a romantic moment that many readers might easily relate to:
I envied Kristin Scott Thomas, emerging from the biplane,
shaking out the halo of her mane; her slim silhouette
against the Cairo night sky; making love in a church
cloakroom while, outside, ladies ate mince pies. I liked her
best reflected in his convex eye, I can still taste you.
Yes, this, what they talk of when they talk of love.
Funny, how you never shot her with a social worker,
nibbling a stale wafer as they rehash it one more time,
Oh, Anthony, if I ever get you on your own in a cobble-
stone alley there’ll be hell to pay, my darling.
Abruptly returning to reality for the moment, let us take a look now at a few lines from the poet’s “Double-Life Diary”, published in Satyress:
6 p.m. Arsenic hour.
Nit combs, home-readers, sight-words,
Later. She will bleach the sink and pots.
Or write a poem. She will have the second
square of chocolate and a glass of Sancerre,
but abstain from all news and current affairs.
She’ll dredge Barbie’s vacant, smiling head
from a bath half-full of stagnant water.
Pilates tomorrow. Maybe.
Molloy’s poems often appear to question why we spend so much time in quotidian reality since there are so many other interesting places to visit when we are struck by the urge to get away from things. The following poem is called “The Ologist’s Ego, Conquered”:
He said he’d snuck out for the night, he’d recently separated
from the pre-frontal cortex of a doctor
and what did I think of that?
He wouldn’t be drawn on the specialty
but it had to be an ologist of sorts ‑
there was something of the teenager
about his forearms, pale and smooth,
his hands with their close-clipped fingernails
that foretold microsurgery.
While the doctor slept, tucked up with his trophy wife,
his ego had slipped from the house and I found myself
next to him at 4 a.m. in the garden bar.
Reader, we needed no line of coke,
no champagne fountain; it was going to happen
and it was simply a matter of where.
A peacock screamed from the topiary.
The best thing about a pelt, I discovered,
as distinct from a frock or skinny jeans,
is the freedom it affords shenanigans.
This was hardly making love,
but a savage mating among mock orange and fig.
Damn him, he was good and he knew it; (…)
Many of the poems in Molloy’s pamphlet Satyress and in her recently launched collection The Important Things are roughly contemporaneous. Thematically, Satyress deals with the poet’s development as a person, while the collection, which includes updated versions of nine poems taken from Satyress, follows her adventurous trajectory as she negotiates an odyssey involving geographic distance, relationships and personal discovery. Although The Important Things represents the best of Molloy’s poetry to date, inquiring souls who delve into Satyress will find poems of interest that shed further light on her early work.
In a brief article recently published in the Poetry Ireland Review, Molloy uses the launching of a rocket ship as an extended metaphor to give readers insight into the process of publicly launching herself as a writer, culminating a decade and a half of painstaking groundwork, during which she meticulously honed the technical aspects of her craft. More than a feeling of having arrived somewhere, the verse published in Satyress and The Important Things conveys to readers the sense of a writer having taken off and now heading for points unknown.
Dick Edelstein contributes essays, reviews and articles to journals and websites in Ireland and the United Kingdom.