Page Count: 60
Publication Date: Friday, October 16, 2015
Cover Artwork: Jessie Lendennie
About this Book
In Bearings, Patrick Moran’s third collection, the poet takes stock of himself and his position in the world. As he says in the opening poem, “Faring,” he is still ‘chugging along,’ measuring his passage ‘through the rear-view mirror.’ Looking back to his roots, he depicts family history, communal lore and local haunts with a tender, grainy authenticity. As always in his work, the past is a pervasive, moulding presence: even the drinkers in “Here” are draining ‘ghostly glasses.’
Yet this book is more than an elegy for a bygone time. These poems, in their lyrical, reflective way, embrace the wider world, too: ranging from a village pub to the North Pole, they take in Tipperary roads and African ruts; raise environmental concerns; and reach out to marginalised lives.
Bearings is also alert to the deeper implications of its title. In “Beats,” for instance, love and the artistic impulse are intimately linked; while “Harvesting” assesses the yields from a lifetime’s ‘gush and spillage.’ Indeed, exploring the creative urge – its processes, its potential, its risks – is one of the book’s central themes. As he comes to terms with his bearings, Moran is determined to make, through words, some sense of his world. Or as he puts it in “Light the Fire”, he aims to ‘sift for glowing coals / in the ashes of the real.’
Patrick Moran was born in Templetuohy, County Tipperary, where he still lives with his wife and family. He is a retired post-primary teacher. He has won the Gerard Manley Hopkins Poetry Prize; he has also been a winner at Listowel Writers’ Week. In 1990, he was shortlisted for the Hennessy/Sunday Tribune Poetry Award. His poem, “Bulbs”, won Poem for The Ploughing at the 2015 Ploughing Championships. His work is featured in anthologies, including the inaugural Forward Book of Poetry (UK), The Stony Thursday Book, as well as The Best of Irish Poetry 2007 and Best Irish Poetry 2010. He is also repre-sented in the recently published Windharp: Poems of Ireland Since 1916. His work has been broadcast on the RTE radio programme, Sunday Miscellany. His previous collections of poetry are The Stubble Fields (Dedalus Press, 2001) and Green (Salmon Poetry, 2008).
Review: Bearings reviewed by Afric McGlinchey for Southward Journal (Issue 32)
Patrick Moran’s persistent themes are personal bonds, community, childhood memory and the act of writing. In this collection – his third – he continues to explore a sense of kinship. Set frequently in the local pub, from which many of these poems were inspired, this is an unadorned voice that inclines towards connection and the pleasure of words. There’s a surface simplicity to these anecdotes, gleaned from neighbours in the ‘snug’, about the marginalised, the lonely and estranged. Some poems implicitly confront the everyday realities of economic depression via migration to England for work, ghost estates, mental illness and death.
This poet is, like many Irish, a talker and a listener – a people person – although there are moments when he shifts his focus to nature. For example, in ‘Gannets, Diving’: ‘the perfected descent: //those great wings folding/just a split second before/heads break the surface;// arrowing into/this elemental,/ consummating catch.’ But his abiding interest is in portraying people, like the old woman, ‘Relic-like, pushing her bicycle, / a stooped, headscarfed woman,’ or ‘That pasty-faced bachelor straggling / homewards in his steadfast anorak’ (‘Advent’).
‘We cannot step twice into the same river,’ says Heraclitus, but I kept having the sensation of stepping into the same poem in this collection. More than a couple of character portraits pay tribute to men who once had a flair with a pool or snooker cue, or a dartboard. Others are triggered by wildlife documentaries that happen to be on in the pub, and these produce more visually interesting images. In ‘Polar’, the speaker is ‘drawn from pub bubblings…to a TV programme about polar bears’, where ‘I saw as much /as anything else /the grand immutables //of my childhood drifting past: surplice acolytes; /unmolested whitethorn…’. ‘All these jottings,’ he writes in ‘Kindling’, ‘hoarded like kindling, waiting for a spark.’ And again, ‘Is this where I am,’ he asks in ‘Harvesting’, ‘My pen merely a rake / tending these shedding leaves?’ I am reminded once more of Heraclitus’s river, which ‘scatters and gathers again.’
As with Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, repetition becomes ritual in the way the poems converse, as though we have never left the pub. ‘Faith Healer’ starts: ‘So one night, years after, she resurfaced,/ randomly in talk. Whoever bought her house,/ Joe Mahon said, just knocked it down; //rebuilding on the site. Would that not bring/bad luck, like interfering with a rath?/ And what happened to her relics?’
Moran, like O’Dwyer, favours the simple, plain, usually one-word title, and the small incidents of life around him. But Moran’s voice is kinder, his community less bitter and estranged, more contented, absorbed in chat and the frothing pint. (There is a lot of froth, and clinking of glasses, and publicans calling ‘time’.)
Unlike O’Dwyer’s visceral, frustrated attachment to the marginalised, the down-and-outs, the lonely, Moran responds to the stories he hears with more detachment, and rather with a writer’s quickening for an image. In ‘Report’: ‘When my father read from the local paper / that the grumpy, often tipsy man, who’d come/ in a battered van selling calves, had been killed/ (accidentally, they said) while shooting game – his gun discharging as he crossed a stile – I was barely ten.’ Years later, recalling this story, Moran asks himself: ‘what can I flush/out of that November fog? Not pheasants / rising, nor bags filling; nor stubbles bristling/against his muddy boots. Nothing only/ the gun: its tantalising, stark report.’
Moran’s opening poems are slight, serving simply to establish themes and motifs, to set up the collection, and his closing poems too, are brief. In fact, of the forty four poems in this collection, over twenty are less than half a page long. But midway through the collection, he mines deeper, shifting to childhood poems, and the language and lyrical grace of these more rural, emotionally resonant poems have an altogether different feel to them. ‘Blight’ is one of the stronger poems here, vivid with detail and texture:
In time, I, too, learnt the danger signs.
Days which felt clammy, yet moist and overcast.
Spore-bearing winds. Evenings dense with midges.
Wet foliage. A sticky mist.
A retired post-primary school teacher, Moran is able to write poignantly about pangs for a more charged life, and for sex, and his last poem becomes quite explicit: ‘you and I blur/to climax: need / raising us fleetingly beyond ourselves.’
Such poems indicate potential for further reflection and emotional investment. I would like to have seen more of this. While the human condition is a universal one, we are in danger, on this island, of being both too insular and too guarded. In his next collection, I would hope to see Moran go beyond the familiar territory of the cosy Irish poem, into more challenging terrain.
Afric McGlinchey’s awards include the Hennessy Poetry award, Northern Liberties Prize (USA) and Poets and Meet Politics prize. She was one of seven writers chosen to go to Italy for the 2014 Italo-Irish Literature Exchange. Her début, The lucky star of hidden things, was subsequently translated into Italian. Afric appears in issue 118 of Poetry Ireland Review, which features the editor’s selection of Ireland’s rising poets. She received a Cork County Council Arts bursary to enable her to write her second collection, Ghost of the Fisher Cat, which was nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Collection.