Review by Fred Johnston, poet and director of The Western Writers' Centre, April 2008
LIGHTING PERSONAL DEPTHS
It's worth repeating that it is easier to become a published poet these days than ever before in Irish literary history, and all that glisters is most certainly not gold. On occasion, people are published for reasons that are less than literary; they are good at showbiz, self-promotion, they know people. And therefore it is refreshing to come upon a collection of poems which may be judged purely along artistic lines. Lorna Shaughnessy, a Belfast-born lecturer in NUIGalway's department of Spanish, knows her material; that is, she knows what a poem is, having produced, with Arlen House, two translations of contemporary Mexican poetry.
Implicit in this, of course, is the notion that she has moved outside the stifling Irish poetry world into headier and different pastures; Modern Latin-American Poetry is one of her academic specialities. This is a sensitive and sensible collection of poems, delving into the personal, the historic, the strange, the theatrical, with ease. More, there is a self-assuredness (a too oft-used phrase) about the work, a quiet languidness which is almost, in some poems, melancholy. There is no throwing of poetical shapes, just a sculpted calm and reserve, almost. The love poems are tender, the travel poems sharply-observed:
"We walk along one hundred years
of thankful witness, hand-painted
by souls who saw and survived;. . . ."
Describing illness, Shaughnessy creates a gentle and somehow quite pure heroism; there is even a light underplaying: "The scars will fade./Inside, living tissue twists and stretches,/finds ways to accomodate a new anatomy . . ." ('The Flesh')
A short review cannot do justice to what is a quite stunning collection of considered and thoughtful poems; here and there one senses an image, a phrase, that might do with tightening or even reconsidering. But this does little to detract from the subtle power and, in some instances, the political forcefulness, of this work. Perhaps we are all merely swimming, trying not to drown. Excellent. The cover design, by Salmon's Siobhán Hutson from work by Fintan Convery, is gorgeous in the true sense of the world; tropically dense and multicoloured as human moods.