Out of Breath

11.9518.50

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Eamon Grennan’s vivid new collection demonstrates once again the poet’s fidelity to the everyday nature of things, his attachment to “these light morsels / of the ordinary” from which he draws large, thought-provoking implications.

Preoccupied with process, he finds in breath itself the apt image for all that generates agitation, excitement and elegy. Maintaining their uneasy balance between the incandescent moment and enduring home truths, these richly voiced poems explore minute and major issues—from the “ink-tip” of a hare’s ear to the failure of speech in the face of violent public horror. Whether meditating on aspects of the natural world, childhood, sexual turbulence, or on a painting by Caravaggio, Pissarro or Vermeer, Grennan’s poems nudge us in their own concentrated way towards revelations that alter the way we understand this various world.

Out of Breath expands the range of a poet whose “raptorial intelligence” (in the words of one reviewer) is “one upon which nothing that scurries, bolts or skitters through the natural or inner landscape is lost.

The everyday is also the subject of Eamon Grennan’s wonderful, searching poetry and Out of Breath, his latest collection, is both a careful and attentive study of the rich quotidian and a visionary quest – in the fullest senses of both words – to go beyond mere appearances and “feel in the day by day / the way things are”. Grennan is both assured and skilled enough to state this project overtly when he needs to, as in ‘Beholding the Hare’, which begins by bringing the flesh and blood animal itself to life on the page as vividly as Dürer does in his famous study, before drawing us into another realm altogether, in which the hare’s separate, yet divinable reality is glimpsed, and contrasted with our own:

free of memory and forecast, being at one
with possibility like that, and not at odds, not split in the middle
and out of focus, not feeling the very ground nerved and veined
with tremor cordis, fault lines branching every which way
from the lost centre, the heart itself out of tune, unable to contain
itself. Not, that is, one of us: soul-searching in our skin of reason.

This sense of human limitations is one that recurs throughout the collection, the tone sometimes elegiac, sometimes impatient, but there is always the possibility of a breakthrough into the wider real, always a chance that “something in you knows how it was”, always the sense that:

It might be possible to pierce
the mist of things rose-tinted
And conjure from that tattered sleeve
some sign
that the way, though strait,
was passable, even in winter.

In this marvellous book, the world seems both richer and more elusive, a reality constantly on the point of being lost through inattention but also “rife with promise” – because the immediate and the eternal are only breath away, and we are surrounded by signs and by guides – the heron, the goldcrest, the hare – who could lead us into that promised reality, if only we could follow.

— John Burnside, The Irish Times

Year Published: 2007
Details: 80pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 428 2
ISBN HBK: 978 1 85235 429 9

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