Mark Whelan is co-founder of Cuisle, Limerick's International Poetry Festival and this, The Sear of Wounds, is his fourth poetry collection. The collection is set out in four parts; Part One: The Sear of Wounds, numbered I-X, Part Two: Secular Psalms I-IX, Part Three: Subterranean and Part Four: Come September, numbered I-VII. An epigraph from T.S.Eliot's Four Quartets: Burnt Norton I, which contemplates time, sets the train of thought for the collection.
'Prelude', before the main collection, appropriately addresses beginnings; "Begin with beginnings once again/ out of what face out of what voice/ Begin with breath". Poem I in 'Sear of Wounds' has gentle flowing words that tell us a story of the "unopened box of parable between us". Whelan's writing is affecting and his use of spaces instead of commas cause the reader to break and take a breath between separated words in a very effective way. This effect can be seen well in poem IV; "My mattress is meek a parting space/ separating what is sacred silent sound/ from the world's desire". There is a stillness in his stylised writing which presents as a muted, almost prayer-ful voice. In poem IX , a consideration of love and its loss, we see this again; "When love left you took love with you/ What remained remained quietly/ as a-no-longer-waiting-on love".
'Secular Psalms' is a lovely section. The biblical psalms are beautiful in themselves and the concept of a secular psalm, a song separate from religion, is appealing. Psalm V considers time, past and present and in words reminiscent of Yeats' "terrible beauty" states "and there is something frighteningly terrible/ and unerringly beautiful/ in the songs of poets" with in the closing verse, "The day present/ does not pass/ nor does it arrive". So many poems have been written on the contemplation of time and this is both a thoughtful and philosophical one of its kind. I particularly liked the sparseness of Psalms VIII and IX, each with sometimes one word lines and no more than three, but still telling a complete and stylised story.
Part Three: Subterranean, has an interesting structure. Composed of eight poems, with an operatic structure, Arias I-IV are each interspersed with poems named for the time of day; 'Night', 'Noon', 'Evening' and 'Morning'. 'Night opens beautifully; "Listen/ toward her intimate breathing as she sleeps/ as you assent toward all yesterday once held" with its quiet sensitive wording.
The final section, Part Four: Come September, is a consideration of what might be said and how the speaker will reply. "And if they should say to me" is repeated. The imagined conversation, " - Your poverty was valueless/ nothing but softblack peaches of hope/ Your remnants remains of words" closes with the beautiful verse;
I will speak of steeples
in a summering snow
and follow into sleep
the mystic kiss of seasonal crops"
Mark Whelan's collection is a stylish one and it is one that demands consideration in its quiet way of addressing the reader.
Published by Doghouse Books