Book Review by Meg McNena
Terry McDonagh, Ripple Effect 2013, Published by Arlen House, Dublin.
For poetry and pebbles so much depends on the cut, the pitch and the elements. Poetry like pebbles will skip in the light and transmit the touch of that hurling hand upon the world. Terry McDonagh cast his eighth poetry collection, Ripple Effect, to his international audience. It is smooth and rounded, chosen for its shape and impact, weighted for the distance, the heft in the grasp of a traveller, a story-teller and observer of the everyday. ‘The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.’ Blaise Pascal.
This book arcs from County Mayo, to Hamburg, England and Melbourne: ‘A muse seeks its own geography.’ The experience of an Irish rural childhood, being a teacher, dramatist, performer and traveller colours his writings, which also include letters, a novel and poetry for children. ‘I am touched by my life overseas, / dining with icons, talking for tea, / trying to recall an elusive address…’ Terry McDonagh is a native of Cill Aodain, Kiltimagh, County Mayo, whence the great poet Raftery hailed: ‘and his blindness / helped him / see …’ And in keeping with the title, a stone taken from Raftery’s grave fell out of Terry’s wallet and into a gully at Flinders Street Station: ‘In time and imagination / some poems / and things to do with poets / become free…’ but he was glad that he had passed it on. Humour enlivens ideas of nostalgia and letting go: ‘Time did what it does to priests, / cats, poets, bats and bankers…’
Here are poems of thresholds: the local pub, church, graveyard, shop-door, ‘nameless babies in Limbo,’ predators at a rabbit burrow, secrets, a bus stop in Hamburg, shoreline tankers, an open window, a city drain and death. There is pathos, irony and social comment in a voice that is accessible and fond.’ There is script upon script on streets / with strange names and habits / but whose land is this I wander? / I can live anywhere, I think…’
Throwing away is another theme: of youth (‘I’d like to have/ my youth back – the youth / I threw away / for a repertoire of wax candles and incense…’), of security in pursuit of art instead of steady employment (‘but had they looked around them, they’d / have seen carbon copies of that son, and if / they’d cast their minds back thirty years, / they have seen themselves sidestepping punk…’), of a handbag tossed from a bike into traffic (‘Traffic struggled like an aggravated eel./ The taxi man and woman-bike-owner/ examined the bag in mime sketches / then sidled off silent as snow…’), or of the innards when they mummify a cat (‘Return to the ancients, / if you wish, / but bear in mind / they threw your brains / and guts to the dogs / before they stuff you…’)
He also lives in Hamburg, where he has taught creative writing at the University of Hamburg and drama at the International School of Hamburg. He has been writer in residence in Australia, Asia and in Europe, with his work having been translated into Indonesian and German and twelve poems put to music by Eberhard Reichel.
The reviewer had the extra benefit of hearing some of this collection when this acclaimed poet featured at the microphone in the cosy bar for poetry@federationsquare in May this year. He is a lively raconteur and wonderful to hear the story behind the poem or its characters. His poetry is distributed internationally by Syracuse Uni Press USA.
McDonagh’s content and themes convey this, Ripple Effect of words, strongly and deftly thrown by a masterful hand.