The latest issue of UK literary magazine, Orbis (Issue 138) has a review of The Juno Charm from David Harmer. They have kindly allowed me to reproduce the review here in full:
ROOTED IN LOVE AND EARTH: REVIEW BY DAVID HARMER
The Juno Charm by Nuala Ní Chonchúir, 84pp, €12.00, Salmon Poetry, Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare, Ireland www.salmonpoetry.com
There is much to admire in this collection of poems that can swing their mood from the nuances of ‘Menses’ - ‘Before the butterfly days / are the fly days / and before those / the days of the spider’ - to the earthy and often rural basics of poems like ‘Sofa’: ‘I squat by a farm-gate like a sneaky pisser/hunched low, arms bent, wearing ruin heavily.’
The poet is herself the centre of the work and the work is centred on her experience. The cover notes make a reference to Blake and it is not without foundation. There are in this collection many examples of poems describing with a disarming simplicity the poet’s worldview, one which has often been hard earned, but of course that simplicity masks a richness of poetic sensibility at work beneath the surface. Here there are moments of profound love, of bitter betrayal, of childbirth and joy, of disquiet and of peace and all resting in a deep sense of the writer as a woman. It is no surprise to find a poem entitled ‘Poem Beginning with a Line by Plath’.
Equally important, is the sense of the poet and the work being rooted firmly in a place. Sometimes she is in America, where a poem like ‘Chinatown, New York’ rings out a list of specific evidence line by chiming line glorying in the esoteric, the newly revealed ; or in ‘Valentine’s Day’ where the poet is in a Lexington Avenue hotel, with the sounds and smells of the city rising up to surround the lovers nestled in bed. ‘We steal heat through our skins / safe from the wind that hurtles up the island.’ These urgent, urban moments are often contrasted with calmer more reflective rhythms and with a sense of Irishness and the land itself. A good example is the poem ‘Galway’ where ‘Skirling origami swans decorate / the Claddagh basin while Galway / settles her night-shawl down, / boats and birds safe at her breast.’ One of the best poems ‘Dancing With Paul Durcan’ seems so deeply Irish and funny and mad that really I should quote it all. Two lines will have to do.
‘Paul,’ I said, ‘your poetry is filthy with longing.’
He said, ‘Would you like to dance?’
At times there is a clunk or two, perhaps because the poet seems too knowing, too aware of her craft, giving us writing too arch for its own good. In ‘Airwaves’ for example we find a ‘newly-minted marriage’ which is scarcely original, in ‘Gull’ I wish the bridges didn’t ‘bracelet the river’ and the wedding breakfast in ‘This Is No Cana’ didn’t agree with me. However, these are rare moments. In the magnificent, enriching and boldly coloured ‘Frida Kahlo Visits Ballinasloe’, any such carpings are knocked away by a poet who sings out the belief in art, in the creative life, in the need for the mustering of perceptions, energies and strengths to fight against whatever painful, grey version of reality the artist and writer finds herself in:
‘Viva la vida,’ says unflinching Frida, painter of pain.