There will be an empty setting at the already laid table: it is his. — ‘Tree Portrait Taken at Dusk’
At the emotional heart of Marine Cloud Brightening is a series of elegies for fellow Irish poets and for the author’s younger brother. The damage to and demise of our planet is heralded in a number of ecological warnings. As Caitríona O’Reilly has written in The Irish Times, ‘Medbh McGuckian’s has always been an illusive, continually self-masking aesthetic . . . the strength of her poetry lies in her capacity for phrase-making; her prosody has the ring of complete conviction even when it deals in gorgeous abstraction . . . her historical ventriloquism is simply another layer in the multi-layered, self-conscious, and simmeringly symphonic work.’
If the death of god put the angels in a strange position, according to Donald Barthelme, Medbh McGuckian’s angels aren’t aware of it. They are “still alert to this church and its clumsy prayer” and the main actors in the beautiful riddling opening poem from Marine Cloud Brightening (Gallery €11.95). Mariola with Angel Choir opens with a hyper-real vision of Jesus crucified “In the shrill turquoise air/of first century Palestine/the rough-hewn cross is already/ regenerating”. This is familiar McGuckian territory with its erotic saviour, “Jesus’s lips are a winestock:/his Z bend, the ropelike winding/of his legs are provocations/ to the senses”. The alphabet signals that language – always one of McGuckian’s primary concerns – is a vital angelic function, “their dazzling, swift and powerful/intelligences sharpening language//with their final vocabularies”. Almost Lost Poem follows with the haunting question:
How can we say something new
with old words? Nothing is flatter
than words on a piece of paper
McGuckian’s poems have been, from their beginning, in an intense conversation with dead writers, such as Marina Tsvetaeva, Rilke and Mandelstam, often borrowing their words. Now death has touched her own circle. The mysterious Inside a Slashed Tennis Ball recalls Ciaran Carson’s The Irish for No? but some responses – in particular Elegy after Dennis O’Driscoll – are unusually direct, forming a poignant counterpoint to the mysteries as McGuckian steps out from behind her mask, “No one thought to tell me except Tess;/perhaps they thought such news would break my heart . . . I ring Peter to ask for Julie’s number”.
Equally direct and harrowing is The Decision to Kill John, the elephant starved to death in Tokyo Zoo, one of a number of poems concerned with the human race’s destructive influence on the planet. Always the neat borrower, McGuckian’s title Marine Cloud Brightening is actually a climate engineering proposal for manipulating cloud cover to offset global warning. “There may be weapon wars/as we weaponise weather.” More relevant than ever, eerily prescient, McGuckian continues her unique mining of verbal language.
— Martina Evans, The Ticket (The Irish Times)
Year Published: 2019
ISBN PBK: 978 1 91133 773 7
ISBN HBK: 978 1 91133 774 4