Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Invisible Threshold by Catherine Phil MacCarthy

There's such a lot of great poetry coming out of Ireland at the moment- the scene is alive and strong! One of these great poets is Catherine Phil MacCarthy and this collection, Invisible Threshold is her fourth. Former editor of Poetry Ireland Review she recently won the Fish International Poetry Prize for 'Limbo'. Dedalus Press has published this collection of over fifty poems with a lovely muddy river and riverside trees oil painting cover 'River and bank, The Quays' by Bernadette Kiely.

The book notes tell us that this collection of poetry explores the idea of 'threshold' or 'liminal', the state of being in transition from one moment to the next. There is an extract from Saunter by John Hutchinson about the meaning of the word 'liminal', of how it is transformative and allows new ideas to be born and also an extract from Guy Davenport's The Geography of Imagination where  the word 'imagination' is tied with the word 'culture' in a humble and not a portentious sense.
With this really thought provoking introduction to her work we are ready to experience her poetry.  Catherine Phil Mac Carthy's poems deal with the ageing process, death, birth, nature and tragedy amongst other subjects.

'Migrant', a poem of questions, start each of them with the word "Will...?" with a line that causes you to ache;
       "Will you go from me as swiftly
         as you came, into the world one stormy

         September morning, hunger cries
         causing milk in my breast to leak"

'Desert Island', a poignant poem of drowning children tells of how, "When water lost its grip, they were washed up,/ miles from home, castaways, on a sandy shore." and 'Facing the Rise' is also about a death, but here we have the philosophical acknowledgement of for every death a life, starting with the lines "After your death in the small hours - / the sun came up, clouds rent and parted," and ends "and shifting cobalt veils crosslit the sky,/ a sense of first breath on the earth, of birth."

'Limbo', the poem that won the poetry prize, as mentioned above, has an interesting word layout on the page with extra spaces between the words as they too seem to float 'in limbo' and also has no full stops. It's tragically sad, with the opening lines; "The firstborn    was handed back to them/ in a small cask   not much bigger than/ a shoebox..." to the last lines which tell us what we surely know, "though she gave birth again/ she was often seen    alone    in that field". She uses this layout technique again in 'Maternity', maybe as heartbeat or breath effects.
'Time Out of Mind' is a terribly sad poem about a confused father after a year in a nursing home, "Have I been here before, he wonders/ eyeing the window, the wardrobe, the chair,".

I love 'Convention'. It's a convention of Brent geese gathered on a snowy cricket pitch like muttering businessmen; "massed gabbling heads,/ a black throng of consternation - ". The imagery in just five short lines is enough to conjure up the whole detailed scene.
"When the Dust Settles" beautifully evokes nature in the city, with the cherry blossom trees next to Lansdowne Road Stadium reminding us of what was there before ;
       " ...Mature Trees
         defy wonders of the boom, promise irretrievable Dublin.
         As if this were a first spring, damson, malus, plum,
         pink heads reach past the builders veneer."

This collection really touched me on several occasions. Catherine Phil MacCarthy has the gentle touch with words that make them ache with sorrow but she also has the ability to balance so many with the joy of life and what it brings.

1 comment:

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