Double Negative – Vona Groarke


Vona Groarke

The double negative amounts to a positive.


In this, her seventh collection, Vona Groarke considers the subject of ageing, fearlessly exploring its culverts and cul-de-sacs while also checking this earnestness with sharp wit and trademark style.

Here candour is mediated by humour. These are sensual and sensitive poems, written in language asked to be beautiful, wry and true about topics usually either ignored or obscured with greyness and cliché.

Hailed by The Irish Times as ‘a poet of great self-awareness and meticulous craft’, Vona Groarke’s Selected Poems was praised as a ‘collection of almost sublime purity’ (Dublin Review of Books).

Double Negative breaks new ground in subject and approach. It is a daring and distinguished work from one of Ireland’s leading poets.

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Glittering lines, fine lyricism and sharp wit

How Do We Get These Lives? asks the second poem in Vona Groarke’s seventh poetry collection Double Negative. “You want to be gentle, of course you do,/to slip through as your body does . . .” Then Groarke characteristically turns and the volta answers with eight terrifying, glittering lines of an extended metaphor:

but someone has stitched these little traps
like tiny mirror sequins to your clothes
so every time you move you think
you can’t afford the glare.

When you shut your eyes it’s as if
the white sheet all this flickers on
slips down an inch inside its clips
and the clips don’t move at all.

Groarke’s fine lyricism and wit are present as never before, the humour more mordant, the vision darker; yet the poems are so exact and fine, it is an exhilarating read. Like the cartoon rider “on a horse so real” in Against Anxiety, we know “nothing about tomorrow’, moving on ‘to the next bit of road and the next,/past fury, exhaustion and bafflement/as he drags with his ears a shaft of light/from a moon he thinks is real.” This beautiful, visionary rollercoaster is steered expertly to earth: “I suppose that’s the thing about cartoons:/everyone sees the punchline coming/except the one who’s about to get punched.”

Double negatives count as positives, played out in several more poems which are also “against”, as in the terrific Against Nostalgia with its poignant, ghostly women with the “bunions and bills” and “missing back teeth” Groarke’s familiar haunting domestic interiors are here too, her trademark colours of yellow and blue performing as brightly as ever. But the road feels more dominant both as a metaphor recalling her fine La Route from her last collection X, but also as real tangible entity in The Mancunian Way or Against Monotony with its “two-hundred-mile drive and nothing/at the end of it but a glass of merlot/and a radio fugue for voice and clarinet/which is a lot/when you come to think about it.” This is a collection to exult in.

— Martina Evans, The Irish Times

Publication date: 27 June 2019
Details: 80pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 91133 769 0
ISBN HBK: 978 1 91133 770 6

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