Calm, objective space . . . but are we our geography? Questions from critic Sarah Hopkins on my new book of poems.

Stride Magazine is an online mag. Here’s another response to “Those April Fevers”. I was happy with the cool tone of the critique. The writer herself is objective and non-agenda-ed in my view, a valuable quality which writers appreciate.

From Sarah Hopkins’ review in Stride Magazine (UK):

“[Mary] O’Donnells sixth poetry collection shows her experience in a range of conventional blank verse forms  – short lyric to long narrative, in couplets, tercets, quatrains and prose poems. Her subjects here are mostly peopled events – weddings, funerals, reunions, meetings and reverie stimulated by interactions with her lover because she is, still and above all, committed to clarity about her own and others’ behaviour. 

In her essay, ‘What Poetry Is’
she proposes that a poem is triggered by anxiety and then moves towards some kind of resolution. Could this also be her own lifetime trajectory, traceable through the writing? As the title suggests, this is a more retrospective collection and the early intensities have softened, there’s a calmer objective space than in previous poems, and a tendency to see and write more simply. But her instinct for self-preservation, and capacity for clear-thinking emotional assessment, are still there. This warning in ‘Waking’ for instance:

                             See my breasts, the dusky nipples,

           two strong legs, my sea-green toenails, and remember:
           your ship, but this my shore, created in your absence.

Such a confident, tender warning.

And the warm appreciation which follows in ‘Beyond Myths’:

           only you can look me in the eye,

           and want to, only you can see the shape
           beyond the myths.

Her success owes a lot to this capacity to confront and welcome by turns, and to voice these dual perspectives from either side of love’s boundary. Are we our geography? She was born in Co.Monaghan on the Republic of Ireland’s edge onto Northern Ireland.

In ‘On Fitzwilliam, After a Budget’ O’Donnell shows us how poetry can stay artistically alert, concerned, and searching while the poet has reached the other end of anxiety. Here she has  achieved and allowed herself a well-earned personal peace: 

           Thirty years on,
           the carcass rippers maul again,
           money-lenders scatter, their coins void.

           Yet, like us, the couple on Fitzwilliam
           kiss and kiss again, the world’s rough edges
           briefly smooth as they linger to drift
           and pause along the railings
           their eyelids closing out the day.

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