St Patrick’s Day has just passed and fittingly, our Friday Poem this week comes from Irish poet Siobhán Campbell’s collection, Cross-Talk.
Acerbic, cool, controlled, this is poetry with attitude. Many of the stories in this collection start in Ireland and although the cadences are sweetly lyrical, the narratives are otherwise. Politics here is intrinsic to the tales of the sly, the warped, the landlady “Mean as Ireland in the 50’s”. Nature is deftly invoked as a counterpoint to human illusions. The apparently personal poems here are cast in a more tender, yet characteristically unsentimental light. Campbell brings the lyric close to the conflicts that spur our passions, both personal and political. While full of wit, this collection challenges the reader by dealing with fundamental questions of borders, identity, violence and responsibility.
Siobhán’s poem ‘Framed’ has just won the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition 2016, and ‘The same people living in the same place’ was just the featured reading at the launch of The Stinging Fly’s In the Wake of the Rising edition, edited by Sean O’Reilly.
“I shall never deny those who came to this gnarled coast
with a skinful of sopped hope and started with their brood
this trail that would become the family you call yours.
You know in Ulster Scots they don’t use the word ‘lane’
but have to say ‘wee road’. The laming of a tongue
will map it out of mind unless it has a name.
Raymond, Ursula, the two Hughs, who laid on betting sheets,
knew when to settle odds and how to be discreet,
paid blind to the sidelong flutter of small groups.
They each made one more shift from anything that marked,
though wondered through two wars what way to stream a lay
for those who come home in droves from fights that were not ours.
I am the last.
Though you are from the south, you need to find the will
to hold a vowel too long. Tell people by their heed
and know who must be paid. Keep always your own name.
It takes a softened tongue to fill a twisted mouth.”