FIRST THOUGHTS: Micheal O’Siadhail poetry collection offers portrait of love and immortal faithfulness

THIS new collection by the poet Micheal O’Siadhail is more than a mere assembly of new poems.
FIRST THOUGHTS: Micheal O’Siadhail poetry collection offers portrait of love and immortal faithfulness

It is, as the divine, Jean Vanier, says in the blurb a ‘beautiful but terribly sad poem of love’.

It is the biography of a marriage and one of the most elegant pictures of faithfulness that I have ever encountered in all my years of reading.

O’Siadhail’s wife, Brid, lived and died with Parkinson’s Disease, an affliction that she endured with enormous courage and mental steeliness.

Her poet husband was her constant companion, both physically and mentally — even when absent he would phone home constantly, checking in, wondering whether her courage was up or down.

The book is also, and unselfconsciously, a picture of the enormous power of Catholic faith.

Closing the book I felt chastened in my cynical atheism:

On weekend mornings wheeling you to mass, Each ageing nun a rustling chaperone /Caressing you like light from coloured glass; In this belonging warmth we’re not alone.

But it is the strength of their relationship, the husband’s care for his afflicted wife, that soars and tumbles though this book like a songbird.

Love is the crimson thread of life. Reading this poignant work I’m reminded, rather abruptly, that I belong to a generation that has now begun to lose things of value.

At the start of our poetic lives we are obsessed with acquisition, with finding love and reputation, and holding both; with making a mark in life.

Now in our sixties we’ve entered a new phase of human loosenings, when that crimson thread of attachment is threatened by the inevitable casualties of life passing.

O’Siadhail in these poems is the perfect chronicler of that process. He witnessed an accelerated process of decline where his serene and radiant Brid — ‘My Isadora Duncan of Gaoth Dobhair’ — is finally ‘chair-bound, can barely move alone’.

In his mind, in sonnet after sonnet, the poet re- assembles an able-bodied life, an Arcadia where all the hopes of their love’s beginning are fulfilled.

One Crimson Thread is also a unique social document, a portrait of the vestigial communal goodness of Irish middle-class life.

It is not a portrait that we see very often, obsessed as we are with Irish misery and intrigue.

This collection might be added to a small library (that includes for example Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn, Joseph Brady’s The Big Sycamore and Declan Hassett’s All Our Yesterdays) where a portrait of the working clockwork of settled Irish life is described.

These books are important memory-correctors, teaching us that all of Irish life is not dysfunctional.

It is a lie for writers and politicians to claim that it is. Bourgeois life does work very well indeed for the upper half of our population.

Because it contains social clockwork and continuity of experience, that life is not conscious of itself. It does not contain enough stress to compel an artistic portrait.

Ordinariness has no biographer.

In this collection of elegies and eulogies a kind of Irish Arcady is created.

The O’Siadhail life of settled, educated love is chronicled and praised for its resourcefulness and benevolence: ‘A waft of kitchen smells and stainless steel, Refectory mealtimes, linoleum floors / A monk in me can yield to their appeal. As once we both were shaped by boarding school, We’re roosting in our new monastic rule.

The resources of Irish life are there to greet them, to succour them, near the end as at the beginning. The faithfulness of old friends, the absolute certainty of being loved and supported; these also form a crimson thread that weaves through O’Siadhail’s work.

This is an extraordinary collection; a portrait of love and of a poet’s immortal faithfulness.

One Crimson Thread

Micheal O’Siadhail

Bloodaxe, £12

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