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 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.
Afric McGlinchey is a wonderful, life-affirming, cosmopolitan poet who came back to Ireland from Africa. She is a poet of the Irish Diaspora, who returned to Ireland with a different story to tell, after following the star of Sadalachbia, the harbinger of an African spring. Her welcome presence in Irish poetry is enriching and melodic: she has heard other drum-beats and carries rhythms of expansive affection that is continental in its humanity, inclusive and multi-cultural: