Recent Reviews

A selection of recent reviews of Salmon titles. Click on the book images to find out more about each title.

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The Lucky Star of Hidden Things

Afric McGlinchey

Review: The Lucky Star of Hidden Things reviewed by Thomas McCarthy for The Examiner, Saturday April 13th, 2013

"Diaspora speak with new rhythms and perspective"

Here are two new collections by poets of the Irish diaspora, two writers of Irish parentage who returned to Ireland with a different story to tell. 

Both are out of Africa, with McGlinchey following the star of Sadalachbia, the harbinger of an African spring, and Casey homeward-bound with Afrikaans as well as Munster Irish in his vocabulary. Their presence is enriching and melodic: they carry rhythms of affection that is continental in its humanity, inclusive, and multi-cultural: 

’The board flicks names: Brazzaville, Lilongwe, Kinshasa, Babouti ...Our destinations will land u sin the ice-chill, erase all memory of this temperature, the slow, languorous sway of sun people.’ 

McGlinchey was elaborately educated at Rhodes University and Cape Town, but her African nature is aural and sensory. Her poems are an anthology of sensations, collected and stored in the mind as she does her athletic free-running across page after page of this, her first collection.

She may editorialise on Harare life, remain discreet about the dampness of Cork, but, on the evidence of this book, she’s cracked more egg shells than most poets, and, what’s more, she’s seen 

’a girl/in south Sudan walk a thousand miles with only insects/ for food, then deliver an infant in the desert. 

Quite simply, this is a beautiful collection from a supremely gracious new voice in our midst. 

Reviewed alongside home more or less by Paul Casey

Reviewed by Susan Millar Du Mars in Skylight 47

The Lucky Star of Hidden Things is an unusually assured debut. A quick glance at the acknowledgements tells us poet Afric McGlinchey has been writing and submitting work for a long time, and has the accolades to prove it. A glance at the poems tells us McGlinchey has lived, does live, a full life. She has the observational and reflective capacity to render that life – the small, vital moments of it – accessible to the reader. All the shades. textures and moods are there, and with them comes resonance.
McGlinchey is at her best in unforced moments of witnessing. Sometimes her touch is light, as in ‘On not flicking my tea towel at his departing behind’, a poem about her teenage son in which affection wins out over irritation. At other times her voice becomes quieter, detached yet infinitely tender as it tackles Iife’s more painful truths. My favourite poem is ‘Last Conquest’, in which the poet describes helping her elderly, ailing father take a bath. McGlinchey uses words like ‘conquest’, ‘king’, ‘remote’, behemoth,' to give us a sense of how big and powerful, how grand, her father once seemed to her. And now he is ‘bird-thin, bone-white’. At the poem's end, father and daughter stand side by side in a lift: ‘face I tight-jawed doors, and wait / sorrow’s invasion borne /  in a tomb of silence’. lt’s a moment all of us have lived through with loved ones: the one in which there is so much to say, nothing is said. The inclusion of ‘tomb’ reminds us there is only one destination possible for this journey. This poem gave me the fluttering-breath-in-the-throat feeling that the best poems do. I won't soon forget it.
McGlinchey has a great ear. You'll want to eat her words like figs, tearing through the membrane of sense to taste what is rich, sweet, yielding: ‘saddle sweat, smack of salt, almond; / twang of diesel. turning milk’ (from ‘Night Scents’). She has an imagist's sense of which small detail to serve up in brief, unadorned lines: ‘All that's left  / dusty footprints  / on a windowsill'(from ‘Red Letter Day’).
Afric's first name honours the continent on which she has lived most of her life and from which she takes much of her arresting imagery. There is a glossary in the back of the book explaining vocabulary of Shona or Afrikaans origin. The book's first section is called ‘In my dreams I travel home to Africa’. I needed the glossary lots in this section. l started to feel like l was reading a National Geographic article, rather than poetry. There's not a thing wrong with integrating words from different cultures into poetry – in McGlinchey's work, they stud the poems like jewels. However, grouping so many poems on Africa together means the jewels' glow becomes a glare. Far better to stir these poems into the whole. Reading them together, our attention is drawn to what is different about this land, these people: I prefer poetry that emphasises what cultures share.
This is the type of grouping error common in unwieldy first collections: certainly not a fatal flaw. It makes me feel protective of McGlinchey, though, as it may leave her open to the charge of being an ‘exotica writer‘. You know the sort. They liberally sprinkle foreign names into their work so you'll know they've travelled a bit. They completely overlook the point that moments of great meaning happen all the time on our own cross streets, in our own kitchens. McGlinchey is not an exotica writer. I'd place her instead amongst a group of current poets who are descendants of Whitman with his blade of grass: ‘l celebrate myself, and sing myself / And what I assume you shall assume / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you’.
The modern children of Whitman write poems less overtly political, and polemical, than some of their contemporaries. Their voices are quieter: their focus on the smaller details – the blades of grass – through which they access what both connects and transcends human experience.
McGlinchey. with her blend of the sensual and spiritual, her deep humility as a witness, her yearning for both the safe and the sublime that home can offer, is a Whitmanesque poet of enormous promise. Both she and Salmon Poetry can be proud of this lyrical, evocative début.

Interview: Afric McGlinchey interviewed for Al-Khemia Poetica on Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Read the interview here>>

Other Reviews:

'A début with sensuous detail. McGlinchey's always assured.' Noel Williams (Orbis)

'McGlinchey's strength lies in her ability to record the noisome flux of the world.' Dave Lordan (Southword)

home more or less

Paul Casey

Review: home more or less reviewed by Dave Lordan for Southword (Munster Literature Centre)

home more or less

The present is undoubtedly a period of transition and of transformation in Irish poetry, one in which the meaning of the very term "Irish poetry" is being opened up, interrogated, changed and expanded by those who practice poetry in Ireland. In fact, things are changing so much that the term "Irish poetry" simply fails to account for the range and variety of contemporary practices here. Experimentalists may argue that this has been the case throughout the 20th century, at least, and it is true that many marginal and avant-garde practitioners have preferred to place themselves globally. But this was in parallel to, and often in reaction to, a mainstream which was overwhelmingly dominated by poets and poems which clothed and rooted themselves in versions of Irishness, and never shut up about it. These days, however, who can really claim that Ireland is anything more than the name of a convenient accounting trick? Who can tell what the mainstream of Irish poetry is nowadays? Poems using ancient Celtic myths, or political myths concerning modern day Ireland as their ur-text, certainly don’t count for what they used to. These kind of poems published by poets of our generation often seem way past their sell-by date, and (given that the main challenges for artists in any discipline remain making it now and making it new) sadly lacking in contemporary nous and artistic ambition.
It's the condition of wandering exile which gives rise, perhaps, to the most understandable attachment to mythologies. Cast away from the land of our birth we may need the sustaining lie of the motherland to keep us on our feet. There are many poems in which a mythical Africa and a mythical Ireland and even a mythical Cork are well couched and beautifully presented in Paul Casey's home more or less. But I was much more impressed with the poems which eschewed cultural signposting, such as the mysterious and novelistic 'Return', or poems which offered an invigorating cut-up of the source material such as 'Imbas', 'Spell of Rest', and 'Puzzle Invocation'. These I found intriguing, memorable, original.
One of the most interesting recent developments in poetry in this jurisdiction is the emergence of a multicultural and multilingual poetic in place of the centuries' deep bilingual one, a process gestured to by the recent Landing Places anthology of immigrant poetry, and confirmed here by Paul Casey. Although it talks a lot about national identities and relies to a certain extent on mist-shrouded national mythologies, home more or less, at its most mongrelly innovative, can be read as undermining the attempt to place art according to political geographies or "linguistic communities". home more or less contains poems entirely or partially in the languages of English, Gaelic, Afrikaans and Zulu. Is an Afrikaans or a Zulu poem an Irish one?
The question may seem absurd until we remember the absurd fact that most poems we call Irish are written in the othertongue of English anyway. In any case a piece of art is never absurd until we approach it with our own absurdity. An attempt to place a poem in a category in which it patently does not belong is absurd and generates absurdity, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and misleadingness. The best art resists and refutes attempts to claim it for any labelling prerogative. Our artistic practice should be the means by which we individually unlabel ourselves and shed all the imposed and mispronouncing layers of nation, myth, religion... The collection's stand-out poem 'Learning Afrikaans in the SADF' brilliantly personalises and dramatises this confrontation between the free and uncategorisable and the old and diabolical machinery of labelling and exploitation:
'Sorry sir, I don't speak Afrikaans', I managed
and what replied was my introduction
to the classified, sonic weaponry
the inmost algorithms of apartheid's armature.
Haai pasop roef! Jaa nie fock nie boetie ... Jy!
jy's net nog 'n fokken dom rooineck ne?
nou draai daardie wit mosdop op
jou kop jou klein poes bliksom se doos!
The refusal to be a good Afrikaner, a good racist, a good killer, literally drives the drill Sergeant insane:
Eruptions of spew and
fury jowl-contorted sounds
half-formed hieroglyphs....
I hear an echo of the conventional critic/anthologiser railing against the brazen and unsummarisable variousness of our poetic present, losing their angry mind because we refuse to a make sense to them in the way they might wish to knock the damned sense right out of us.

© 2013 Dave Lordan

Dave Lordan was born in Derby, England, in 1975, and grew up in Clonakilty in West Cork. In 2004 he was awarded an Arts Council bursary and in 2005 he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry. His collections are The Boy in the Ring (Cliffs of Moher, Salmon Poetry, 2007), which won the Strong Award for best first collection by an Irish writer and was shortlisted for the Irish Times poetry prize; and Invitation to a Sacrifice (Salmon Poetry, 2010). Eigse Riada theatre company produced his first play, Jo Bangles, at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum in 2010. He has lived in Holland, Greece and Italy, and now resides in Greystones, Co Wicklow.  His third collection of poetry, we are not falling, we are being thrown, will be published by Salmon later this year.

Review: home more or less reviewed by Thomas McCarthy for The Examiner, Saturday April 13th, 2013

"New collections of poetry from Afric McGlinchey and Paul Casey."

Here are two new collections by poets of the Irish diaspora, two writers of Irish parentage who returned to Ireland with a different story to tell. 

Both are out of Africa, with McGlinchey following the star of Sadalachbia, the harbinger of an African spring, and Casey homeward-bound with Afrikaans as well as Munster Irish in his vocabulary. Their presence is enriching and melodic: they carry rhythms of affection that is continental in its humanity, inclusive, and multi-cultural...

...Sensuous too, Paul Casey learned his Afrikaans courtesy of the SADF: 'Haai pasop roef! He responds 

'Like sub-Saharan thorns translation skills mutate and still their flowers must dilate. 

He coped with the expected harshness of South Africa, and ended up teaching scriptwriting at Nelson Mandela University. Mindful of the Zulu proverb that poetry sits still while hunger is a wanderer, he hungered after another language, and as if to prove that the hunger of wandering is settled, he has written a poem for Alan Titley: 

Cathain a bheith tú ag teach ar ais? tá said ag monabharcad é sin i ríocht na ndaoine? tá fhios again...'

Casey is more political than McGlinchey, and therefore more disturbed culturally. His naming of names or pointing at milestones, from Kavanagh's bench to the reworking of a Douglas Hyde translation, looks like part of a sophisticated effort to find a landing-place with enough flat grass to allow a descent. 

With his mixture of humour, robust language and neurasthenic wandering, he is a serious talent; a man to demand attention. He might be addressing us all with these words: 

'There you are little sisteran Irish mist about your cheek.'
Reviewed alongside Afric McGlinchey's The Lucky Star of Hidden Things.

Out of the Ordinary

Moya Roddy

Review: Out of the Ordinary reviewed by Martina Evans for The Irish Times,  Jun 1st, 2019

While she has been writing and reading her poems for years Out of the Ordinary (Salmon, €12) is Moya Roddy’s first collection. Pared-back and precise, these poems quietly dramatic, not surprisingly, as Roddy is also a playwright. Most poems barely fill half a page, leaving space to ponder what is not said. Subtext is the playwright’s home ground; it is, after all, the silences that really make a poem unforgettable, beautifully expressed in Picking Blackberries, “... we reach … whoop as the first berry/touches base, a sound that’s not/ a sound as cans fill up.”

Which comes first, the poet or playwright? It is hard to know but it is clear that Roddy is deliberately working with the unsaid in final lines of Watermark – about a walk on Trá Bán – “I will remember this walk/because so little happened/and we never spoke about it”. This haunting crystallises around a large number of poems about Roddy’s Donegal mother who haunts the book from the first beautifully understated poem Miracle, where Roddy remembers praying for her mother to wake up from her afternoon nap:

Around five you’d rise,
unwind the long scarf
worn to protect your hair,
bring wan lips to life
with a dab of lipstick –
then sally forth
to get something in for tea
– eggs or a piece of liver –
waving and smiling,
waving and smiling
as if you’d just risen from the dead.

And then having risen from the dead, this Donegal outsider exiled in Dublin, continues to appear throughout the book. The family’s “country ways” a source of shame during Roddy’s childhood turn into “fruitful seeds,/an ear for sound, a body tensed to write”. Everything is passed down as towards the end, poems about Roddy’s daughter appear; the haunting reaches its apotheosis when the mother “is in the hand gripping my daughter’s shoulder.” We are brought full circle when the poem finishes with an eerie reprise of the poem’s title, “It was the first time I saw my mother:/the first time I caught a glimpse of myself.”

The Road, Slowly

Liz Quirke

Review: Niamh NicGhabhann reviews The Road, Slowly for Cyphers (January 2019)

Liz Quirke’s The Road, Slowly is prefaced by a short paragraph noting that the book ‘pays tribute to the achievement of family’, and that it ‘celebrates the connection between parents and children within a non-nuclear family’. While this note does provide some useful context for the reader, it quickly dissolves as a necessary framework. Quirke’s work requires no scaffolding, and from the opening poem, she brings the reader into the gentle, all-consuming intimacies of family, and the continual balancing between the identities of mother and lover, as well as the individual selfhood of the poet herself. Throughout, Quirke maps a landscape of mothering that is both entirely familiar (‘instead of the resting hollow of your hip, / my words now know the fit of skull and cheek/ against my shoulder, the weight/ of each of our babies as they fall asleep – ‘I Don’t Write You Love Poems Anymore’) and new, or new at least in the representation of the family within Irish poetry. 
The Road, Slowly is an assured celebration of the abundance and quotidian joy of the life of a young family, beautifully expressed in ‘Vacancy’, ‘Nocturne with Bathtime’, and ‘Night Vision’. Although Quirke writes in ‘I Don’t Write You Love Poems Anymore’ that ‘These days those stories don’t fall easy into ink’, and that ‘writing them is like carrying a lake/ in my hands, too much lost/ by the time pen meets page’, the poems are unhurried, careful observations and investigations of the texture of motherhood and its various relationships. ‘Waiting Room’, for example, attends to the particular physical anxiety and hush of the IVF clinic waiting room, noticing that ‘chairs are a decent size and spaced / so couples don’t have to touch each other / unless they want to.’ The poems in the first section of the book focus on the temporal quality of waiting (‘Our failure to coalesce./ When skin splits and blood runs / and the life we planned vanishes into dust’ – ‘Carving’); of carrying (‘Fall at 33 Weeks’); and, in ‘Newborn’, of imagining the encounter with a newborn with trepidation and excitement (‘Scared and hopeful, I know / I will leave fingerprints, / watermarks on your surface,/ reduce your glass to less than perfect’.) Quirke maps these experiences from the perspective of the woman who is waiting to become a mother, but who is not carrying the child in her body, in poems like ‘Nurture’ and ‘Juno’. In ‘Nurture’, Quirke writes that ‘In the nine months I didn’t nourish you,/ I made notes, I studied the seasons/ for ingredients to encourage your growth.) In this way, she articulates this particular position of motherhood which is unique to Quirke’s own experience, but which immediately seems to occupy an essential part of the poetic tradition of writing about the subject. 
Quirke writes this tradition of motherhood into the canon in a deliberate way, particularly in the second section of the collection, titles ‘All The Hidden Truths’. ‘Counterfeit’ tracks the tensions of bringing this identity into the broader sphere of mothering, and its assumption of a shared physical experience. She writes that ‘Propriety requires my answer to be my lack of sleep, chapped nipples, swollen ducts,/ all the bruisings and restitchings of childbirth. I hum and rock the baby/ knowing the moment my interlocuter sees through me.’ This is a powerful poem which registers the sense of the assessment of the outside world, the sharp evaluation of the family that is so whole when in private – ‘I can see her put those parts of me between her teeth/ and clamp down, finding nothing but a lightweight metal,/ a hollow ring, a counterfeit’. In countering, or extending, the exclusive connection between certain physical experiences and the identity of the mother, Quirke also addresses the canon of writers that she values in ‘Women Poets Teach Me How To Be A Woman’, and although she finds much to sustain her, she finds ‘the lexicon full of all I couldn’t name/ handed over heavy as bad news’. The Road, Slowly is a collection which speaks directly to poetic tradition, and that wants to be part of that community of love poets and poets of family, a desire reflected in ‘Boluisce’ – ‘I want them to teach me how to inhabit this place’, but on her own terms. It is an assured and confident first collection that has successfully opened new doors within the house of poetic tradition in Ireland, and that I as a reader, am grateful for. 

Review: Jessica Traynor reviews The Road, Slowly for Poetry Ireland Review 126

Liz Quirke’s The Road, Slowly (Salmon Poetry) invites us to join the poet on her journey through new motherhood. This is a collection which specialises in the intricate and insightful exploration of that life-changing event. Quirke has a fresh and surprising linguistic approach, her lyrical flights deftly balanced by a careful approach to rhythm, metre, and sound in poems such as ‘Nova’, where a child’s instinctive trust is described: ‘Little cup of courage, you jump / off the round of the earth, unafraid / to spill yourself but you never lose a drop.’ 
While these are poems that deal with the deep instinctual love of a new-born, they eschew easy sentimentality and explore parenthood’s deeper anxieties. ‘Fall at 33 Weeks’ takes an unflinching look at physical vulnerability around birth, using imagery designed to raise a shudder: 

She said it was like falling
on a small dog,

that she felt each rattling jolt
of baby bones

These poems also deal with the complex emotional landscape of new parenthood, its discomforts, its small resentments, and its terrible (and often justifiable) paranoia, in poems refreshing in their honesty. Notable among them is ’Counterfeit’, which records the judgement of a group of women who have come to realise that the speaker’s route to motherhood may have been different to theirs. The imagistic flight of the last lines raises the poem above the realm of skilled narrative to something even more universal and affecting:

I see her hold these facts loose as coins in her palm,
I see her put those parts of me between her teeth 

And clamp down, finding nothing but a lightweight metal, 
a hollow ring, a counterfeit. 

This is a longer collection of poems and, as the title suggests, they take their time, exploring the experience of motherhood through a variety of lenses over three sections, with a prologue and an epilogue. Perhaps the divisions of the book are not as accessible to the reader as the poet, but their considered titles speak of the poet’s care and attention to the poetic weave of this collection. It’s certainly worth taking the time to walk the road with Quirke, seeing life afresh through eyes that ‘don’t know the horizon’.

Review: Siobhan Mac Mahon reviews The Road, Slowly for Skylight 47

Beauty and truth shine through this debut collection of love poems from an original and gifted poet . In this compelling and moving collection Liz Quirke vividly captures the difficult, all-consuming, beautiful business of becoming a mother and raising a young family with her wife.
One of the great strengths of this collection is how it hangs together as a whole, each poem adding to and illuminating the other poems. I found myself immersed in and captivated by the story of the collection, which begins with a prologue, followed by three chapters and an epilogue. 
We follow the poet through the challenges and joys of becoming a mother: the search for a home to start a family in, the longing for conception, the ambivalence of her place in society as the non-biological mother and the intensity of becoming a mother – how ‘…she arrived and fitted into place / into the arc of my body on this bed / into parts of my days / I didn’t know were empty.’
Although the poems about motherhood take centre stage in this collection, equally evocative are the poems about her wife; we get glimpses of their time together – ‘The heady risks of our early years’ -- before the arrival of the children. ‘I remember you before real life / mattered, all fire and softness’. Some of the most poignant poems deal with the inevitable impact that having children has on their relationship and their lives – ‘I Don’t Write You Love Poems Anymore’, Quirke said ‘All my words are kept for the children’, whereas previously ‘In our years together, love, I have written you with all the heart a pen can hold.’
The poems range from the tenderest of moments to the bleakest, with great integrity and honesty. Quirke skilfully weaves grief, loss and the isolation of the outsider alongside poignant moments of vulnerability, intimacy and wonder. Her vivid phrasing and powerful imagery beautifully capture the hurt of a child shunned by its mother, who ‘…swallows her dismissal / washes it down with a mouthful of burning Summer’, or, in another poem, the devastating loss of a child – ‘What a swing looks like when a child no longer plays in it.’
Several of the poems unflinchingly examine what it is to be a non-biological mother, with a body ‘that did nothing to make her.’ They question her place in society, how others may view her – ‘…that way of strangers / how their hungry mouths linger wet / around words like ‘real’, words like ‘mother’’. The poems also question how being the non-biological mother places her outside the cosy circle of mothers at a child’s party, viewed as a ‘counterfeit’ – ‘knowing the moment my interlocutor sees through me.’ 
Yet, it is the integrity and courage of these poems, firmly and sensually located in the body, in the visceral experience of being a mother, that leave us in no doubt - how she feels ‘…necessary under their touch’. These are poems ‘tethered to the earth’ and it is here, in the earthy physical descriptions of mothering: the teething – ‘Your new teeth allow you to howl / like the quietest of wolves’, the sleepless nights – ‘Knuckles soft / with sleep / ankles weak / as though boiled / your cries meld / into the walls’ that Quirke is at her most evocative. We can practically feel the weight of the child who is – ‘…is lodged into my chest / a comfort from thigh to chest ‘ or hear – ‘…the rasp of breaths lovely in my ear’
With the rare exception of one or two poems. theses love poems avoid any hint of sentimentality. In ‘For She Who Loves Mw’ when the poet is ‘grief low’ her wife reminds her ‘that nothing roots us more than gravity’. And these are rooted poems: poems rooted in the body, in the earth, in the senses, in the small rituals of the everyday; rituals which Quirke imbues with a grace and significance with her eye for detail and her vivid imagery. Her great gift is to illuminate and celebrate the many small ordinary moments, reminding us to be present to the extraordinariness of the everyday, lest it slip through our fingers like’… water I scoop with netted fingers’.
These poems are a testament to the enduring power of love, in all its glorious, heart-breaking wonder and fragility. Sometimes, Quirke says ‘we witness the whole thing fall to bits’, yet, ultimately, like the collection itself, it all holds together – ‘Holding to the slope of a home / we salvaged for ourselves.’

Review:  John McAuliffe reviews The Road, Slowly for The Irish Times (Saturday January 12th, 2019)

Liz Quirke approaches parenthood from a more unconventional perspective in The Road, Slowly (Salmon, €12), in poems about her position in a same-sex partnership, uneasily moving between being “the mother” and “the mom”, “[mapping] journeys for us, / paths we could walk together, / a staggered relay to start / when your other mother / passed your tiny form to me.” (Nurture)

These are hard-won poems that rise out of a larger silence, re-doing the lyrics of Máire Mhac an tSaoi and Eavan Boland for 21st-century Ireland: in Women Poets Teach Me How to Be a Woman, this is not all liberating, but instead recognises, even as it quotes her peers, the difficulties of representing her experience: “These women put into words / what a swing looks like when a child / no longer plays in it, how bags of clothes / drag in a tearful hoisting to an attic’s dark. / One assured that the art of losing isn’t hard to master, / but how wrong she turned out to be, how wrong.”

Quirke’s approach to the material is conventional, and in poems like Four Parts Distinct (“Birds warble backwards, flowers retract to buds”, is how that poem of discomfort and alienation begins), Portraits of My Lover and the title poem, this pays off with images which offer a longer view: “At your height the world is all wall and bracken, / stone and puddle, you don’t know the horizon.”

The Mind

John Fitzgerald

Review: The Mind reviewed by Tulika Bahadur for On Art and Aesthetics - April 3, 2017


At the heart of John FitzGerald’s third poetry collection The Mind (2011, Salmon Poetry) is the seemingly important yet forever elusive concept called “The Center”. What is this center? It is never directly defined, just that the effects of its proximity, and lack thereof, to human consciousness are given expression through unforgettable imagery – biological, geometrical. Also legal, which makes sense, for the poet happens to be an attorney (for the disabled, in Los Angeles).

The Center, the reader gets an impression, is some kind of metaphysical place. A location of wholeness, of clarity. Separation from it is pain. We do not know what the Center is composed of, but mid-way through The Mind, the poet drops a particularly illuminating line on its role and its function in our lives – “from the center,” writes he, “we attribute value”.

On a structural level, the book is a circle. It commences with departure/disorientation (“Removed from the Center”) and concludes with arrival/reorientation (“Regaining the Center”). The journey in between is broken into nine deeply philosophical sections: “Fear”, “Time”, “Beauty and Truth”, “Death”, “I”, “Prophesy”, “Rules”, “Choice” and “A Mind like the Wind”.

As he begins this work, the poet finds himself alone, in darkness. He wants to understand “the mind”. Face it. Through it, find a way ahead. But the mind is too complex, too large, too stunning. FitzGerald writes:

Removed from the center, I begin again, / where someone in the crowd might be, / those absolute strangers, in whose lives I am.
I can only look into the mind for five more seconds. / The true mind, the one of thinking, is far too bright to see directly. / I have to veil it to contain it.
I have to trick myself into believing I even can contain it. / The way someone drowning swallows the ocean, / I can take no more than a glass of river, and the rest consumes me.
“I can only look into the mind for five more seconds. / The true mind, the one of thinking, is far too bright to see directly. / I have to veil it to contain it.” 
Removed from the center, the poet is afraid. He soon talks of the demise of his father and his uncle. He dwells upon the taste and the smell and the shape of fear. Fear is like dust, thinks FitzGerald. And fear is unlike desire. Desire starts small and gets bigger and bigger, remaining the same version all along. But fear is unpredictable. It can transform itself, turn into success or failure:

Fear begins as larva. / Compare that to desire, / which is born just a smaller version of what it always will be.
Fear transforms into other things, desires just get bigger. / Some like to point out that the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. / Maggots become flies,but who pretends to notice?
Fears can become both flies and butterflies, given a choice. / Fear predicts the future. / That is how it knows where it is now.
FitzGerald continues to concentrate on different phenomena: Time, Beauty, Truth, Death. On time, he makes a most interesting observation: “The mind is door after door after door, / Time is keeper of the keys.” Time, in a way, helps the self handle the mysterious enormity of the mind. Time unravels moments, keeps things from happening all at once. Time, the passing of which we like to indicate through rhythmic mechanistic ticking, fundamentally remains “as silent as ellipses”.

After a while, the human sense of identity – the “I” – emerges like a divinity in the book. What is it? Who is it? For the poet, “I” is at once the generative and intelligent deity and the privileged Adam in paradise, who must engage in taxonomy (Genesis 2:19-20) – “I is the Creator. Or at least, the giver of names.” But this semi-human semi-divine “I” feels weak and threatened. It has a fluctuating constitution. It has no proper territory – “It recognizes other gods before it, to be sure. / If I’m not in the center, then where am I?” The poet tries hard to chart and calculate his character but his doubts and confusions regarding himself and reality hardly fade away:

Where would I go if I were a word? / I’ve been seeking landmarks to pinpoint my position. / There is no other reason to even bother to observe.
I draw an azimuth from four corners, / I try triangulation too. Here, where spaces / and lines intersect, is exactly where I should be.
Yet such measurements only serve to prove / that the mind doesn’t seem to exist. / And where would that leave this version of reality?
Reflections on “Rules” and “Choice” follow – thoughts on what could be and must be done in life (“dreaming”, “writing”), thoughts on the various possibilities available to the human self (“being”, “willing”). The poet, through these musings, starts to “regain the center”. He is pushed to, he confesses, a rather “anticlimactic end”. Nothing new here. He has just found what he had lost. What’s the difference? What’s the whole point then? According to him, the advantage of a newer, sharper vision. He writes:

Regaining the center is anticlimactic, like finding the end of a rope. / A complication of untangling. / Lost remains the only way to find.
But no need to search for a known location. / Simply go back the way you came. / Except on return the path looks different.
It is difficult to sufficiently capture the profundity of The Mind in a single write-up. It is a challenging psychological read with sharp insights that lovers of serious literature will love and learn from. The project is rendered all the more meaningful and beautiful with the poet’s honest descriptions of his life’s great events…of his grief, his vulnerability.

Review: The Mind reviewed by Diann Blakely for Smartish Pace

… If John FitzGerald’s earlier work shows Berryman’s influence, he comes strongly into his own with The Mind. Like Galassi’s third collection, its has its own tomb-like depths and angelic heights. The book indicates FitzGerald’s early in saturation in Rilke, one of whose New Poems [1907] is titled “The Cathedral,” and has a flight and plummet not dissimilar to “Leaving a Dove.”

FitzGerald’s sensibility is riven not only between the here and the not-here, the concrete and the abstract, but also ancestry. While his name draws the very map of Ireland, Italy once again enters into the equation, as do, so to speak, numbers: these, not titles, which are given only to the book’s eleven sections, identify The Mind’s poems, which gradually reveal, sometimes litanically, the age of his father and his grandfather at death, his own terrifying experience with a collapsed lung, and even rules. In “Sixty,” he writes, they are “dreams,” and “like everything, [grow].”

    What? Did you think the rules never changed?
    Well, I might bend them before your eyes.

    Rules are something I can get into.
    Collections of words are my forte.
    Some might come up again a little later.

    But for now, by choice, I still abide.
    Choice is also easily numbered.
    The two choices here are delete or revise.

FitzGerald is far too intelligent not to know that “forte,” a term from fencing, is pronounced with a silent “e”: there is much silence in The Mind—note the white space between the tercets—and  as for “forte,” think of where the angels came to visit Rilke. Duino Tower was originally a “fortification,” of course,  yet what FitzGerald longs for are the angelic visitations that wrested the famous “Elegies” from the former poet and might beat back into unconsciousness the demonic fears that “manifest in body.”

My favorite two poems in the book are the duo of endings: both offer hope chastened by experience. “Eighty-eight” and “Eighty-nine” limn the the possibility of new beginnings, which yes, is intertwined with terror in Rilke’s angels—”inasmuch as hell survives, we grow attached to other people”—but by this point, we know that FitzGerald’s salvation has been found in earthly form, and if part of that “form” is human, the other art is poetry of the highest—and bravest—order:


    Regaining the center is anticlimactic, like finding the end of a rope.
    A complication of untangling.
    Lost remain the only way to find. 

    But no need to search for a known location.
    Simply go back the way you came.
    Except on return the path looks different.

    So, run off and start your own religion,
    wherein mindsong can make a tree sigh just in passing.
    Let us question each verse till it shows us.

About the Reviewer: Diann Blakely is the author of three books of poetry as well as an editor, essayist, and reviewer. She taught at Belmont University, Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, Watkins Arts Institute, and also served as the first poet-in-residence at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee. A Robert Frost Fellow at Bread Loaf, she was a Dakin Williams Fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Blakely has been anthologized in numerous volumes, including Best American Poetry 2003 and Pushcart Prize Anthologies XIX and XX. Diann Blakely passed away in 2014.

Review: The Mind reviewed by Amelie Frank at The Lit Pub (January 2015)

If I were still working with John FitzGerald (in the interest of full disclosure, we worked together at Red Hen Press), I would nudge him and say of his book THE MIND, "Skynet becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th."

My sense of John is that he has been aware of himself for a long time, but not in a solipsistic or narcissistic way at all. He is a keen observer, a consumer of origins, fine distinctions, continua, grand schemes, and minute details. He likely began observing and contemplating information from the moment he experienced the glare of light in the delivery room, and he has never stopped. 

Interestingly, while THE MIND is about the remarkable way John thinks, it speaks to the larger questions of how we all think, how we came to be sapient in the first place, and how we develop as thinking souls in space and time. Keeping the language of his prose-like tercets basic, unadorned, and free-flowing, he accomplishes poetry of significance and elemental beauty. Left brain contemplation of structure and systems aligns itself with right brain wonder and whimsy, but neither hemisphere dominates in the work, so the reader can only expect the unexpected. And the rewards are great: poems of curiosity, orientation with the universe, sorrow, finding center, and surprising hilarity. (Only John can make the idea of rocks funny.)

If I were teaching from John's book, I would encourage poetry students to examine his masterful skill with personification. I would encourage philosophy students to wrestle with his experiences of phenomena. I would ask psychology and neuro-biology candidates to experience the brain from inside-out. I would ask physics students to explore how we process space and time in an era when such concepts are continually challenged and updated. I would ask divinity students to consider creation from the point of view of the created. THE MIND weighs so many approaches to thinking and being that you won't devour it in one or two sittings. Read it as you would the Book of Genesis, or Hawking, or an introduction to meditation. You will not think the same way ever again after reading it.

Review: The Mind reviewed in Midwest Book Review

"This collection of poems reflects on the events in our lives that take place even while we are reaching for light in a dark world. Always out of reach, like listening to the wind, but missing the point, we stumble on. Thoughtful and leaving readers thinking, The Mind is an excellent collection and very highly recommended." 

Review: The Mind reviewed in by Marie Lecrivain for Al-Khemia

"John FitzGerald's new collection, The Mind, is one poet's journey through his internal cosmos. In The Mind, the poet wanders through the realms of life, beauty, truth, death, The Self, and possibility (or, prophecy), but... to what end? Fitzgerald's The Mind is a 21st Century companion to Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, but one endowed with an immediate, vibrant accessibility; a Hero's Journey not soon to be forgotten."  

Review: The Mind reviewed by John Starbuck on Goodreads:

The Mind is JOHN FITZGERALD’s third poetry collection and continues and expands on his insight into the myriad aspects of human emotion. The poems are philosophical; emotions are set against the ‘objective’ consciousness of the mind. The result is a deep exploration of what it means to be human.

Interview: John Fitzgerald interviewed by Marie Lecrivain for Al-Khemia Poetica:

     John Fitzgerald's new collection, The Mind (copyright 2011 Salmon Poetry), is one poet's journey through his internal cosmos. In The Mind, the poet wanders through the realms of life, beauty, truth, death, The Self, and possibility (or, prophecy), but... to what end? FitzGerald's, The Mind is a 21 Century companion to Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, but one endowed with an immediate, vibrant accessibility; a Hero's Journey not soon to be forgotten.

     FitzGerald, an attorney who fights for the rights of the disabled, took some time to answer questions regarding the inception, as well as literary process that went into his latest collection of work.

     Q: Please explain the what events led you to form the concept behind The Mind?

     A: A couple ideas collided. My father died unexpectedly at forty-two, while I was in Europe. It was ten days after his burial I first learned of his death. My own forty-second birthday was approaching, and I reached it. I felt it worthy of some memorialization. I had been working a long time on a piece that didn’t pan out, wherein I catalogued aspects of the mind, as if descended from one another genealogically. Those efforts transformed into this.

     Q: Your use of the article “The,” in the title is telling. Are you referring to the “universal” mind, as in shared global consciousness, or to your “own” mind, by removing yourself from The Center and placing yourself in the role of observer. Why/why not?

     A: I’m working on a non-fiction book, in which I answer that question like this: There was a time before language. Suppose you are a hunter, with nothing but your wits and a spear you made yourself. You don’t just wander aimlessly, hoping some piglet impales itself. You track. That’s what hunting is. Reading signs. And those signs speak much as any words. I may never have seen the particular creature I’m after, but it came through the brush here, scraped its fur against this branch, put its right front foot just here as it drank from the stream. I have no doubt it is an antelope, a heavy male. It marked its territory there, a sign for other antelope to read. But I speak antelope. It nibbled from those shoots then took off in that direction. This story told itself in my head. Earth spoke it directly to me in a voice no other can here. Once we have words to describe this process, that internalized voice of Earth is ‘The Mind.’

     Q: The first stanza, in poem “Three,” caught my attention:

     The mind could be a very long poem.
     It could pick up where you left off, so many years ago,
     before you became law abiding.”

     This could infer that the poet is an outlaw. Based on that, as an attorney, how do your reconcile your dual roles of lawmaker and poet?

      A: My forthcoming book of poetry addresses that question directly, with a ‘fictional’ poem about the conflict between an attorney and his inner poet. Actually, I think the selected lines not merely infer, but directly states the opposite: that I am not an outlaw now, but may once have been. I understand how disappointing this can be. My first poems were published before I began law school in 1993. Once law school began, I had to give up writing poetry.

     Completion of law school left quite a vacuum. I wrote four poetry books between 1998 and 2004, of which The Mind was the first. When they were done I adopted the notion I would not write more until I published these, so applied myself to that. The fourth book I wrote, SpringWater, was the first published in 2005. The third, TellingTime by the Shadows was published in 2008. The first, this one, was published in 2011. And the second book I wrote will be published by Salmon in 2014. I became an attorney to learn how far law could be stretched before breaking. Knowledge of law allows one to exist at its limits. Law school changes a person, makes one foreseer of liabilities. With these four books all published, I was freed to go back to writing again, and am now working on non-fiction.

     Q: There are many references to your own mortality, and the death of family (father, uncle), in your collection, particularly to the ages where both these men both passed on. Would you say that gaining a greater awareness of your own mortality is a gift, or a detriment, to your poetry, and, is it something that you will continue to foster? Why/why not?

     A: The men in the line I find myself die relatively young. The aforementioned uncle set a record reaching sixty. I would say I am acutely aware of the limitations. It makes me feel as if I never have enough time, or things are not getting accomplished quickly enough. Still, I consider it advantageous. There’s something intrinsically rewarding in fascination, at least for me. I love to be fascinated, and spend time making myself that way.

     Q: The Mind reads like a philosophical treatise, with you, as The Poet, hypothesizing/researching/and possibly concluding where He stands in the universal order of things. Did/did you not you intend for your book to be so?

     A: Absolutely. By the time I wrote The Mind, my father was dead longer than I knew him. His death was so unexpected. I have both his birth certificate and death certificates, as if they prove he ever even existed. Cause of death was retropharyngeal abscess dissecting into mediastinum with bilateral serofibrinopurlent empyema. His body produced its own poison, and he choked of unpronounceable words. Turns out that is just an infection, and had he gone to a doctor, might even be here now. The awareness became even more acute when, at age 42, I found myself in a hospital bed breathing through tubes, and I realized then how surprisingly death can come upon you.

     Q: The Mind contains nine lines per poem, all the poem titles numbered “One” through “Eighty-nine.” Why such specific structure?

     A: When I began, I did not expect to write such a long poem. That aspect just evolved. I set out only to write nine lines, and it grew from there. When I first finished parts one through ten, I considered it done, but couldn’t get that format out of my head, so just kept at it. Originally it had 111 parts, but was scaled down to this, with remnants found in Telling Time, which indeed takes its title from a line in The Mind. I find that establishing artificial rules for the poem provides a sort of frame into which a picture must be forced to fit. In Spring Water, for example, every poem is 32 lines, 4 parts of 8 lines each, with no line longer than 65 characters. In the mind, I wanted each tercet to stand alone, and each part to stand alone as they form a comprehensive whole. So when you’re reaching that ninth line you know you’re time is running short and you’d better get to the point.

     Q: Now that The Mind, is a published collection of poetry, what kind of feedback are you receiving from your readers?

     A: The Mind was completed in 2002. I have been reading it at venues since, so it’s been known to many for a long time before publication in print. It has an oral tradition. The feedback has been overwhelming. Everybody loves it.

     Q: As a poet with dual citizenship, where do you find your true inspiration, in the Irish poetry tradition, or in the American? Why/why not?

     A: I do not think I am inspired. There is a thing that makes me write and that is the need to record what seems to cross through my awareness. I am an avid note taker. Day to day life tends to become so routine, it’s rare to think something new and original. But I set that goal for myself, and have note pads everywhere, in my car and every room of my house. It’s not so much inspiration as a conscious effort to notice a good line when it occurs.

     Q: According to your bio, you have several literary projects: Primate, a novel and screenplay; The People of the Net, a work of poetic literary non-fiction;  and the poetry collection The Charter of Effects, currently in progress. Which one can we expect next to come to fruition?

     A: Well, Charter is scheduled for publication by Salmon Poetry in 2014. Most likely, that will be next, though it may have a different title. Primate is out there floating around. The other works continue to progress. I find that works I once thought complete tend to be absorbed by more recent writings until they’re basically sucked into a black hole and no longer exist in their former incarnation. So People of the Net no longer exists, it is part of something else now. All will be published at some point, it’s just a matter of making them known to the right people. 

article content © 2012 marie lecrivain

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