Saturday 25 November 2017

Practising the poetic poise she teaches

John Boland

There's a beautiful late poem by Cecil Day Lewis called Walking Away, in which he observes his teenage son Sean playing his first game of football and then "drifting away" with the other schoolboys "with the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free".

"I have had worse partings," the poet notes, "but none that so gnaws at my mind still."

And he ends by reflecting "how selfhood begins with a walking away/And loved is proved in the letting go".

I thought of this poem when reading Vivienne McKechnie's first collection, A Butterfly's Wing, published by Arlen House and launched last week at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Ely Place.

In fact, two of the poems, one addressed to her son, another to her daughter, are called Letting Go and both have the poise and poignancy of Day Lewis's poem.

So do others in this fine collection by an author who teaches creative writing in the Limerick College of Further Education and who shows here that she's a notable practitioner of the art she preaches.

I was struck, in her accessible but subtle verse, by arresting first lines that invite the reader in, and of final lines that provide a satisfying close while remaining quietly open to life's ambiguities.

*****

And I'd be surprised if Vivienne McKechnie isn't an admirer of Edna St Vincent Millay, whom I've just been rereading. Here was an American poet feted in her heyday in the 1920s (when she also had an impressive list of eminent lovers) but whose work went so out of fashion that the modernist movement almost expunged her from history as an old-fashioned formalist.

However, the best of her poems are wonderful and with wonderful opening lines, too: "Time does not bring relief; you all have lied", for instance, or "What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why", or, "I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground".

She was the real thing and she remains so.

Irish Independent

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