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Reviewed by:
  • Then Again by Pat Boran
  • Joseph Heininger
Then Again, by Pat Boran (Dublin: Dedalus Press, 2019, 94 p., paperback, $14.95)

Thirteen years ago, Dennis O'Driscoll pointed out in introducing Pat Boran's New and Selected Poems (Dedalus, 2007) that his poetry deserves wider recognition. Then, Boran's work was read by his peers but was largely missing from conferences and anthologies. That situation has now changed, and the publication of his new collection, Then Again, is evidence of the greater reach and response his poetry has achieved.

In Then Again, as in The Unwound Clock (1990) and The Shape of Water (1996), Pat Boran's poems portray obscure or unattended lives and yearnings, as in "Camden Street in the Morning," about a "Paddy" piano mover, called an "eejit," who harbors his unspoken dreams: "what do they know of his nights? / that tower of pianos silent to the moon?" In depicting the strong ties of blood and feeling, Boran revisits the habitual actions of parents toward their children, and explores a tragic death or the gradual loss of physical ability. He examines emotional desperation in a woman's inability to "let go… or step away. She can't move on," in "Prayer for a Grieving Sister." The poem concludes with their "lost brother" acting as Orpheus to lead her, a grieving Eurydice, from the underworld to the light:

… if you can bear to sense or feelsomething of her pain, reach down, [End Page 158] lost brother, touch her face,send a sign she'll know has comefrom you alone …then take her hand and hold itand, as only you can do, lead herout of this dark shadow worldthat she might live again, her breathher own, her heart set free once more,her rigor mortis grip on grief released.

The last lines reverse the customary usage of rigor mortis to reveal a psychological "grip on grief" among the living. In refashioning this classical myth, Boran joins his contemporary Theo Dorgan as two fine practitioners of reimagining Greek mythology in contemporary Irish poetry.

Boran writes about ecological subjects in ways that might lead to sentimentality or exaggeration, but he resists this by focusing on pivotal scenes. In the colloquial lyric "Estuary," the poet shares a bench with an elderly man who pronounces, "soon there will be no birds at all," as they "overlook the estuary where a dozen curlews / bend to stitch the frayed edge of blue silk." The speaker describes their quiet companionship:

I sit beside him. Whatever he has readis already haunting him, the inkon his fingertips. We talk for hours,until, silver-grey, the evening tide slips inaround our feet. Tonight I dreamof the last curlew flying across the estuary,of ink stains unfolding slowly through the water …

Stirred by apprehension of a creature's extinction, the speaker says, "I wake to inspect the landscape of my hands … so powerless, so small, so far away." He dreams of "the last curlew flying across the estuary," an emblematic bird he may yet find embodied when he awakes. This poem quietly but insistently imagines a terrible disaster in the loss of the last Irish curlew.

Boran is similar to O'Driscoll in his acute observations of contemporary mores. He creates poems that reveal new forms of relating to questions of self-possession and self-knowledge. In "Virgin of the Crossroads," the poet first comments on the passing "not long ago" of statues of the Virgin erected "on country crossroads like these." When, in the family car, his father passed such a statue, he would "announce it was time to proclaim / one or other variant of the mystery, / and we'd sigh or groan, / knowing it was futile to resist." Shifting the time sequence from past to present, the speaker relates a newer instance of the Virgin appearing on Irish roads: [End Page 159]

… driving late on this windingcountry road, heading homewards,rounding a bend to find herstood there stillin this winter's night, a solitary girlwaiting for her bus,her face beatificin the light of her mobile phone.

This poem's apt conclusion...


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pp. 158-160
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