Thursday, December 13, 2012

Outward and Return by Gréagóir Ó Dúill

This is Gréagóir Ó Dúill's sixteenth poetry collection, the majority of which have been written in Irish. He has lectured in Queen's University Belfast and Waterford IT and lives in Dublin and the Donegal Gaeltacht.

Outward and Return is a lovely collection which includes poems on Ireland and abroad; Paris, Berlin, Venice and Chicago, poems on nature, Irish history, artists and literary figures, in particular Yeats.

The opening poem 'Seaweed' is light and full of movement and rolls along the page as it is read; "yo, ho and up she rises, drops, then up/ again, small runnel of sand/ dropping away as she kites up high". 'Driving into Paul Henry' is a great title for the speakers journey home, driving through countryside reminiscent of Henry's art work; "Turfstacks the size of houses loom,/ stack-shaped houses shrink./ A donkey stands by, perishing in the cold." The effect of the poem is immediate, bringing to mind a visual image of Paul Henry's artwork.

'Anjou' is a three-part poem reflecting the beauty of this French former county, but Part(iii) describes a drought not witnessed before "all is different here" by the speaker; "Animals keep to the shade but thirst drives them/ to muddy pools, twenty wild pigs on one etang*/ and the ribs of cattle show". Ó Dúill explains an etang as an 'artificial pool for agricultural purposes' (such as oysters). "Chicago reflects on the airplane journey to get there, "ten hours of flight against a headwind,/ the indignities and intimacies of the eggbox," and the security measures on arrival, "... the vigilance of a people whose retina/ will bear an image always, twin towers airplanes". It takes just a few days for the speaker to settle in and l accept the cityscape and its history and he realises "... that I could live here, as so many/ of my people and of other peoples have, together".

'The Mountain, afterwards' is a gentle and pensive poem on the way the world carries on after death and the acceptance that "The dawn will rise...". This continuation is "when she is no longer here/ and I am." It is a philosophical poem, brief but affecting and I found it very moving. 'Yeats and Leda' responds to Yeat's own poem 'Leda and the Swan', based on the Greek myth of the rape of the girl Leda by the God Zeus who had assumed the form of a swan. Opening with the lines; "Yeats, you tell it well:/ that feathered rape overmastered her/ then let her drop, aware, empowered', the speaker then turns from the swan to another bird, the little egret. He considers how "Leda would not have been surprised by him" and there would have been "no fecund womb, no slung egg, no endless war." It is a clever rewriting of a well-known story with a new what-if to mull over.

This is a rewarding poetry collection that fills the reader with many different emotions. They are accessible and have an intelligent depth to them and as a non-Irish speaker it is great to be able to experience Ó Dúill's poetry.  

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