Juniper Street


Vona Groarke







Ambitious, tender and lyrically beautiful . . .
The Irish Times

In this, her fourth collection, Vona Groarke asks what it means to come from a place, how we are ever to feel at home elsewhere, and what it is we take with us when we uproot.

These elegant, engaging and witty poems at once retrieve the past’s ache, welcome the future’s freedoms, and question what lies between. The violence of history leaves its mark. ‘To Smithereens’, for example, refracts the murder of Lord Mountbatten through personal recollection, while the title poem, in which a mother watches her children boarding a yellow school bus, strikes a contrasting graceful note. Juniper Street confronts disappointment and compromise, yet remains open to the possibilities of delight and hope. It brings her already celebrated gifts to a rich and simmering maturity.

Vona Groarke’s fourth collection, Juniper Street, brings together dense yet taut poems, grounded in an everyday enriched by an intelligent, idiosyncratic awareness. One of the book’s preoccupations is the meaning and relevance of the past. . . . In the title poem, she describes what it is to live on this street through the seasons and concludes with the children’s dash to catch the bus to school. Alone, she becomes ‘queen of the morning’, free to write and reflect, to tell her partner that months ago, she slid her hand into his glove and believed its heat would carry all of them to ‘the stoop of this whole new world’ that is Juniper Street. In a poem as much about mature love as place, Groarke finds her way by precise observation and disparate, deftly interwoven threads of thought, the defining attributes of her style and achievement.

— Carrie Etter, Times Literary Supplement

. . . poetry of precise, sensuous detail and sensitive, witty observation . . . concerned . . . with the ambiguities of perception and the duplicitous, multi-layered nature of words as signifiers. Juniper Street develops Groarke’s consideration of the idea of home, the always shifting state of belonging in time and space, present and past, as she meditates on the various structures in which we live — physically, imaginatively, emotionally, historically, linguistically — and on how these also come to inhabit us . . . . This poetry is remarkable both for its use of metaphor and simile to create striking images that gleam and build into a luminous tapestry as the collection progresses, but also for its attentiveness to words as sounds that powerfully reverberate. . . . Groarke is an archly knowing and highly self-conscious maker of poetry.

— Maria Johnston, Poetry Ireland Review

Vona Groarke’s is a fine-tuned diction, a poetry of poise and perfectly contrived effect. In ‘Song’, for example, “though/ it will be years/ before we meet/ I know now/ who stirs/ that blackbird/ into song”. Nothing is clumsy here; nothing is under-achieved, nor is there any of that surplus of the unintended, in language or ideas, which can be one of the surprises of poetry.

The poem’s dedicatee “stirs” — a verb with satisfyingly various levels of meaning — her highly symbolic blackbird into song. Even this overt lyric has a narrative configuration; elsewhere in Juniper Street there are scenes from family life, wry observations of neighbours and of the life being lived in parks, boats and ‘The British Museum Gift Shop’. Groarke writes touchingly about her children, as in ‘Why I Am Not a Nature Poet’, a story of infection and cannibalism in the goldfish bowl. The poem’s also very funny: ‘Why I Am Not a Nature Poet’ “has to do with Max and Nemo/ scarcely out of a plastic bag three weeks ago”. We don’t need to know more than this opening couplet; we’re already laughing, and Groarke’s comic timing extends, elsewhere, to a fictional ‘Acknowledgements’ in near-blank verse — “To my mentor, Victor Quigley (as always, Vic);/ to the staff and management of McAuley Meath [. . .]” — and to her observations of kids in the gift-shop, “their backpacks crammed with treasure (paid for); their pockets with hand-picked booty (not)”.

If comic timing is an instance of Groarke’s poetic poise, so is her often exquisite turn of phrase: “Jane of the vanilla skin”; ‘Call Waiting’ as “two round pips/ beads on a chain of intimate, dead air”; the title poem’s squirrels “sifting with Victorian aplomb,/ tails aloft like pinkies off a cup”. Indeed, ‘Juniper Street’ is the book’s undoubted masterpiece, its observations of a new life in suburban North America lifted out of the conventional by the poem’s admission of internal life, when the poet experiences her husband’s reassuring body heat “as something on the turn/ that would carry us over the tip of all that darkness/ and land us on the stoop of this whole new world”.

— Fiona Sampson, The Irish Times

There is an engaging diversity to the poems in this book and much to admire. . . Vona Groarke, though still young, always seems to this reviewer to be a ‘real’ poet, one who produces consistently good work and who lives through her poetry. Juniper Street is a worthy successor to her three previous collections, with its mix of to-the-heart-of-the-matter observations, and melancholic and piercing voices; we will be reading Vona Groarke for a long time to come.

— Nuala Ní Chonchúir, The Irish Book Review

Year Published: 2006
Details: 64pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 398 8
ISBN HBK: 978 1 85235 399 5

The Gallery Press