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Endings and Beginnings

Enda Wyley

The End of the World, by Patrick Deeley, Dedalus Press, 102 pp, €12.50, ISBN: 978-1910251546

The End of the World, Patrick Deeley’s seventh collection of poetry, is a passionate and persuasive appraisal of the natural world. It’s a world already revealed in The Hurley Maker’s Son, Deeley’s critically acclaimed memoir which mapped the emotional and physical territory of his growing up years in Mullagh, Co Galway – which works well as a companion piece to this volume.

In The End of the World, many of the poems refer back to those marshy lands, the Callows, that Deeley still loves so much. For example “The Migration”, with its arresting image of eels going “on a belly march, / teems of them ‘splathering’ across the wet / Callows, homing to the seaweed of the Saragosso.” Or “Poultice”, a poem which commences with a lush description of moths but concludes in a final and surprising hymn to birds: “each Callows river / running to loops that gathered / the waders – ‘bog bleater’, / ‘whaup’ curlew, ‘Goose of Ireland’ – / to stitch the mud of little lakes.”

Deeley is a poet who thrives on nature as a vital source of inspiration in his work and his linguistic response to it is intricate, muscular and crafted with the same determination his father possessed when hard at work, “sawing timber with the sawdust flying”, in the poignant poem “The Wedge”.

There is an expansive narrative at play too in many of the poems which connects the energy of the natural world with that of the contemporary. The title poem written in italics acts as a prologue to the book. A tragic startling moment is caught in the opening lines.

They’ve nothing in common, the young girl knocked
from her bicycle and dying on a roadside
in Harold’s Cross, and the tribesman of Sumatra
being interviewed on television, shaking
his head at the levelled forest, cut and burn stretching
for miles behind him; they’ve nothing in common

except, as the man says, the end of the world
is happening.

There may be “grief” at the end of the world, but Deeley philosophically concludes that “this, too, is the world, and somehow a beginning”.

The power of storytelling dominant in this fine first poem is also present throughout the collection. In “The Ash Pit”, a curious child asks men busy “splitting logs into planks” too many questions about a spreading fire. “Imagine, just imagine”, the poem demands of the reader, celebrating in these final words nature’s ability to be resilient and to endure beyond disasters.

The End of the World is a well-structured book and Deeley purposefully concludes the poem “The Ash Pit” with the very same word which starts off the next poem, “Two Hundred Million Animals”:

Imagine the two hundred million animals we kill for sport
each year. Imagine them piled in a heap ‑ skulls,
beaks, horns, tusks, fangs, feathers, furs, scales, wattles,
coxcombs, paws, talons, flippers, bristles, tails.

Mankind’s wilful destruction of the natural world is passionately exposed in this memorable poem. It is a destruction described in other poems too, such as “Scribble Lark”, where Deeley laments: “My world is burning down, being / blown down, withering, drowning.” And yet there is hope to be found in nature, “working with its own will”, like the “scribble lark”, which the poet sees hatching “a clutch of scribble-marked eggs, in / the rusted exhaust of an old tractor in a sawmill.”

But Deeley’s imaginative strength as a storyteller is not just confined to this world and I enjoyed very much the eerie sense of another world skilfully netted in a poem like “The Invisible Man”, where a ghostly presence plays “hide-and- seek” with the living. In the excellent “Undercut”, poems are viewed “as a means of retrieval”, and seem to be “only the ghosts / of all that was won and lost.” “Boxes” tells how Deeley’s sister once had a ghostly experience as a child: “Her haunting haunts me still.”

Other poems that I admired in this substantial collection – it comes in at close to sixty poems – were the heartfelt poems about parents and being a parent. “Fatherhood” serves as a poem of memory and love as Deeley looks back on himself as a young dad, up on a height cutting back ivy from his home and seeing his young daughter and son below: “So he shouts his love and acts / the clown – until they laugh, and wave, / and take off after the collie dog.”

“My Mother’s Getaway” is another poem to be applauded for its natural flow, its pared-back language which celebrates his mother, “her feet swishing / through coarse meadow”, free from the pressures of “child and beast / and man”.

There are strong poems too about the river Dodder, close to where Deeley now lives in Dublin, and I particularly liked the final poem of the collection, “Vixen”, where the female fox represents the “burning down” of the poet’s years, “so lightly here and gone” – a fitting, pensive conclusion to this considered and accomplished collection.

1/7/2019

Enda Wyley is a poet. Her most recent collection is Borrowed Space, New and Selected Poems. A sixth collection, The Painter on his Bike, is forthcoming from Dedalus Press. She is a member of Aosdána.

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