Poetry review: 20/03/20
FLOWERS, ALL SORTS, IN BLOSSOM - FIGS, BERRIES, AND FRUITS
by OISIN BREEN
A sensuous debut from Oisin Breen.
Oisin Breen’s first collection, Flowers, all sorts in blossom, figs, berries, and fruits forgotten, reads primarily as a meditation upon memory. Where do we store our memories? In Breen’s words they linger in the flesh, particularly in the skin. We carry memories of the dead in our own bodies, and in this fashion manage to allow them to retain life and breath. Our “palms are veined in a pattern of earthveined rust… memories harden in the dermal layer” in the first work, entitled, tellingly, Isn’t the act of placing flowers on a tomb a gesture of bringing a little life back to the dead?
Memories, stilled and muted harmonica
silk-heavy in the russet wind,
like sensuous leaves with ice-cracked spines…
This is a deeply sensuous work, which reflects and draws upon smells, tastes, the impact of time and nature upon the skin; every sense is considered and meditated upon to recall feelings and moments. The language is lyrical and haunting, suffused with cadence; the words melt upon the tongue, creamy and sweet as honeyed fudge, reminiscent of long summery childhood days.
The collection consists of three long prose poems, interwoven with repeated motifs – the loss of parents, the enforced journey into adulthood and new identity that their loss necessarily provokes, and Dublin, which functions very much as a primary character within this work, reminiscent of Joyce and his meanderings in Ulysses, its streets and people populating Breen’s poetry. He has an excellent ear for the Dublin accent and use of vernacular – small wonder, since, although he has since moved away, this is his home city; clearly this continues to function as a repository of his childhood memories and self. This is a love letter to the home of his youth.
Breen makes good use of other cultures’ mythology and history, too; one must tackle this work with a decent encyclopedia at one’s side to fathom all the references to Gods, ritual, divination by means of animal entrails. In a style reminiscent of TS Eliot, this is not an easy, casual read; it warrants and demands careful study and consideration. Yet it can also be enjoyed at surface level, its musicality gracious and pleasing to the ear; the language scintillates and delights, even where his more explicit meaning eludes. He explores and traces the poet’s history as wandering minstrel, singer and story-teller, placing himself firmly within that tradition:
And thus I bleed purpose
And it is with my blood, with my wit that realities are made.
And I have a reality, and I AM a reality.
Many lines but one being,
Each year I sing myself better.
KNOW THEN, THIS IS HOW ALL LIFE BEGINS
From vital song to verse, from chorus to hearse,
From the nodding head of coming dread, to linearity and vice. (p66)
The work ends with eventual recovery and reconciliation – the child and his parents, remembered, honoured, but ultimately, returned to their proper place in the narrative; the man resuming his current existence, his every day, looking outward and forward. Forgiveness is the central mechanism by which this reconciliation occurs; by understanding, acknowledging, then by “distancing from tradition”:
It exists, She exists, I exist, and You exist-
And we must,
only so in the matrix,
may be glad as much in giving,
as it is in holding the receipt. (p85)
Rotten fruit and fallen flowers begin and end this collection, signifying the necessary desecration and decay which inevitably signal new beginnings. I do so hope this indicates we can look forward to more work from this newly emerging voice.
Review: Melissa Todd.
Oisin Breen – Flowers, All Sorts, In Blossom -
Figs, Berries, And Fruits Forgotten
ISBN 978 1 873412 04 6