Reviews Ahoy!

I thought it was time that the books that pass through the house should have their own reviews; here is the first selection.


Love Song        Kathleen O’ Driscoll    Marram Press

Writers of poetry, especially those who go in for the new purple-prose hybrid, expect the reader to impose some form or order on the deluge of misplaced words. The reader as winnower and thresher, on duty, working away to find some sense; or even better, some mystical uplift –but it’s hard work scavenging amongst the dross.

In contrast, Kathleen  O’Driscoll’s poems are narrow and look sparse indeed, but this is because the writer has distilled them down, refining, sorting, changing and placing each word with precision. (I’ve used the analogy of a jeweller before, but it bears repetition here.) No changes are necessary, there are no doubts, this is as fine and infinitesimal as meaning can get. No subterfuge and no laziness. In these narrow lines there is more than other poems that rattle on with bombast.

The writer as witness and recorder, trying to be as pure and impartial as possible; it is almost as though there is no one here, just a pane of glass and the clear air between you and the experience presented. The writer has crept away, almost untraceable, leaving these signs like marks on Ogham stones.

And here is a far better review, from Diodorus in the first century B.C. on the Celts-

“In conversation they use few words and speak in riddles, for the most part hinting at things and leaving a great deal to be understood”

In Between Angels and Animals    Emily Cullen

Arlen House

This second collection marks a change, as “Cocoon” points out,               “fledgling wings

jostling with hardening time.”

The subject matter has widened to include marriage, birth, parenting; the gigantic steps that need a new vocabulary. No more reflective or witty bright young thingy-ness –this is the real thing, a transition into the fully fledged adult. And it’s a long time since we visited Eavan Boland’s kitchen at night, and heard about night-feeding ( in The Gorgon Child) ; here is the next step.

Emily Cullen is part of the new face of Ireland, where it is accepted that mothers can be academics and academics can be mothers (it has to be equal.) The result is a further exploration into private territory, gradually giving it shape and carving, smoothing, so that it can make sense to others. The world invades the kitchen –ah, but, the kitchen then invades the world, which is as it should be.

She also looks back, from child to forbears – in Grandmother

“I bear witness to your transmission

of faith, folklore, tradition.

May we hear your voice at the threshold again,

bidding us ‘Welcome, Welcome,


Somewhere in Minnesota,     Short Stories

Órfhlaith Foyle    Arlen House

Well, Maeve Binchy it ain’t. Contained violent incidents are scattered through most of these nineteen stories. The important thing is what they are contained in  – and that is carefully chosen and carefully constructed sentences. The reader is led through, like a trusting child, holding on to that smooth adult hand.

The shock is gently delivered, bit by bit – you’ll find yourself reading right to the end, being manipulated perfectly. Skilful craft lets you skitter across the surface. Only later does the shock come through.

On second reading, the careful build-up, the tension that we try to dismiss is shown up to be lying in wait. And that is Órfhlaith Foyle’s gift – the doling out of shock, gift-wrapped in flawless cool prose. There’s nothing twee here. The few written in the first person are not from a female point of view.

There’s a seething undertow that the writer (and so, the reader) manages to skitter over, the word-skill covering the danger, ice skating personified.

Borderlines    Short Stories

John Walsh   Doire Press

The young man who is frequently the subject or narrator of these stories is often tempted, pulled in many directions at once. Just as often he is bemused by the tensions around him – especially in the New Year’s Day hitch hiker version.

“Something in Ian still cared, but not enough to silence the fear that had crawled under his skin. ‘Thanks for the lift,’ he said and got out.”

Set on both sides of the Irish border, the changing characters weave through threats and their ramifications.

The collection ends with a duet of a story written by a man and a woman who arrange to meet in a pub. Rounding all the mishaps and the troubles (with or without capital letters) it has an uplifting ending. A type of innocence pervades these stories, an innocence which has guarded the young man throughout and which remains even as he is writing them down.

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