Monday 14 October 2019

A grief observed in verse

Poetry: Crabbing, Alison Hackett, 21C Renaissance, €18.00

Crabbing by Alison Hackett
Crabbing by Alison Hackett
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

There is a limited ability to overcome grief in certain circumstances, particularly if on your 12th birthday, you are racing about, thwocking a hockey ball and get pulled off mid-game to be informed of your mother's death.

Though Alison Hackett's mother, Lesley, was fatally ill, the news that her death was imminent had been shielded from her. Being the youngest in her family, at a boarding school in Dublin, far from her rural Cork home, this protection from tragedy results in buried shock.

Interred for four decades, her 12-year-old voice emerged at age 52, in poetic form, as "unspent grief erupts" in her. As a student, Hackett found mathematics alluring, "a world of logic, elegance, pattern and proof".

The elegance of her poetry is compounded in a visually clean, mathematical format. There is more clear space than ink on each page - somewhat of an Emily Dickinson influence.

Her range of language is both staccato and soft, in succinct verse, which encourages you to read this aloud, truly the best way to engage in the emotional depth of a poem. Divided into three sections, reflecting periods of her life, this volume begins with the release of emotion on her mother's passing, at her funeral, "Salty tears/cascade down/over gravel/across grass/melting stones/descend into the sea".

Moments of loneliness move towards her mother's spiritual presence, the poet imagining her mother in "I met you on the Dart today", now the daughter is the same age as her mother when she died, and sees her as "Tall and elegant/in a jaunty French beret/and coat of softest wool,/long and great and chic".

Landscape and nature is ever present, particularly in the title poem "Crabbing" which distills images of our unique Irish coastline with vivid childhood memories of fishing in the "clinker built punt" where a "swell surges us onto a sea/of thick ribbony weed". As life moves on and grief begins to evaporate, in "Two Doves" there is a sense of two departed loved ones, "Their backs to me/they canoodle/once or twice/heads entwined/in curved embrace".

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