The Way InSubtlety is a word that defines the poetry of John McAuliffe, whose previous collection, Of All Places was a Poetry Book Society recommendation. The title of his fourth collection, The Way In, suggests that he is an intuitive poet, who waits until he finds the right size and shape of key for the lock, then turns . . . and we’re in. Though nothing is as simple as it seems:


“In the cities it’s a beach
it’s a night
it’s a glass of wine
it’s the morning and the radio
in a small glass
saying something out loud, oblivious”


McAuliffe’s skill is in his deftly selected details. In the narrative poem ‘Shed’, human nature is revealed as slowly and steadily as the shed’s journey from one neighbour’s garden to another: “half full cans / of paint and petrol, full potential, evaporating into the air.”


These are quiet poems; no psychedelic whirligigs. ‘The Retreat’ might be describing his spare writing style: “A white wall / with nothing on it at all except what I put there. This. The bell / of that church, clean and punctual.”


. . . It is through things that John McAuliffe tells his narrative, and like Don Paterson’s “great twin-engined swaying wingspan of us” in ‘The Thread’, McAuliffe’s dragon in ‘Exeunt’ (part 4 of ‘Knight’) becomes a symbol of the thread that holds them together as they find themselves:


“on our knees, putting the evening and years of practice
into pushing it between us, making plane noise,
mmmmhmmmm, nnnng, ng, ng, nnnnng,
revving through take-off, bearing it all, up up,
and no thought of landing.”


The poems archive private and family memories in language that is crystalline, uncontrived and intelligent. Sometimes the intimacy is so tender, the reader feels they have stumbled on a private diary, or letters to a loved one. There is a truth to this collection, and a sincerity that is achieved simply because he is not trying to impress anyone. The skillfully wrought poems are


“A way of answering
to a day, to years of them, that we step into and speak up for.
To you.
There is no one else I am talking to.”
(‘On Earth’)


— Aifric McGlinchey, Southword

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