Wendy French is happy to follow where Siobhan Campbell’s poetry leads the way
The first thing that struck me while glancing though this book was the extraordinary range of interesting titles. Titles are important and Campbell recognises this fact by her choices which lead the reader into this fine collection.
‘The shame of our island’ is the first. The title leads straight into the first line: “is that we killed the wolf.” This is an interesting poem and a story where I could imagine children sitting round a fire to listen to the wild tale. There are three questions in the poem for which there are no answers. But questions still need to be asked even if one cannot find a solution. The last line plays on words: “Is this wolfish?” Is it wolfish to imagine the wolf like this or is it wolfish to be asking these questions? The reader has to make up his/her own mind. And we leave this page to turn to ‘Tone’, a completely different subject matter and prose poem exploring just that, tone.
Tone is an artist dropping a Ming vase and calling that art… Tone is a weasel, drawing the birds down with a special sensuous dance and then, tone is lunch.
I could imagine Campbell having great fun thinking of the different examples. But the poems set me thinking beyond the page and wondering about tone and what it actually is.
This is an intelligent collection whose poems are imbued with subtle emotion. The language is innovative and exciting. The poems are surprising in content and often have to be read twice to grasp the full implication of the meaning of the words.
Campbell celebrates Ireland, her homeland and entices the reader to follow her in her journeys.
No way to pace yourself or plan a rest. Each ridge peak declares itself a fake… All this we see and separate out from the group to feel how things are shifting from this height, how we’re lifted out of ourselves until one, young and without fear, begins to whoop, a clear, felt sound, a rare high tremor…
This language is as fresh and exhilarating as the child’s “whoop”. The reader can hear the child. Many of the poems rely on the sounds and sensuousness of certain words and these words carry the poems with a rhythm and zest.
These poems are deeply felt and that passion carries from the page to the reader. I want to be walking in the following cornfield. I want to feel the sensation of the battles that were fought there. I want to watch the soldiers eat the corn.
What you have seen cornfield could make you weep. The stories they tell you from the north would be worthless to yours… Cornfield, when the breeze flies through you, makes a set dance of your bright tips or when a path opens up to your centre as if a mysterious finger parts your waves [‘Fodder’]
‘Uncle Paddy and the man from Atlantis’ is a prose poem/story that I have read several times for it is delightfully told. It is set on the seafront and Uncle Paddy does just that, meets a men from Atlantis. They share Polos. Read the story for the ending and the journey down the page. Campbell is a story teller of the first degree. If I have a favourite poem this is it. I want to know more about Uncle Paddy and that must mark a good poem.
There is such variety of content in this book and you are constantly surprised by what you may read next. Life goes on in different ways and the ways merge through history and an island’s people and their stories.
The cow is on top of her game, has haunches fat, her bones rounded. She feels the goddess power of her udder in the mould-damp dark of the milking parlour.
‘Flora’ is another sensuous earthy poem where we can smell the parlour and feel the vibrations of the cow in her movements.
Poem title go from ‘Periwinkles’ to ‘The same people living in the same place’ and each title gives an indirect hint to where the poem may lead – but often with a surprising outcome. The book celebrates all that it is to be Irish and I thank Campbell for allowing me into her world, her country, her vision.
Wendy French’s latest book is Thinks Itself A Hawk (Hippocrates press 2016)