Points West

11.9518.50

Gerald Dawe

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Gerald Dawe’s seventh collection spans the globe, from Belfast to Boston and Berlin, from a Mediterranean island to his home in County Dublin, and from the irretrievable past, full of half-remembered things and distant echoes, to fugitive voices caught up in the turbulent beginnings of the twenty-first century. Points West is a book of emotionally forceful meditative poems — their plain style and direct expression by now an unmistakable signature.

A poet whose international outlook continually illuminates themes of home and origins, whose sensitivity to the vicissitudes of history sustains his intimations of solidarity, whose respect for the everyday ensures that its wonders are not taken for granted. And its soft-spoken tones, light-filled settings, delicate imagery and intimate occasions combine to produce poems which are as genial as they are accessible.’
George O’Brien

Gerald Dawe’s Points West, on the other hand, is a new collection — his seventh — but one remarkable for its economy at only 37 pages of actual poetry. We might be tempted to call this a half-volume, standing in the same relation to a full collection as novella does to novel. As with that genre, this is to imply no diminution in literary stature but simply a difference of form. For, in this beautifully-written book, a concern with the exact and to-hand — whether the record of a changing neighbourhood or a series of poems with an intimate, elegiac voice — suggests that such concentration is entirely elective; indeed necessary. Dawe’s diction is fine yet never finicking. In Family Tree, “I caught the sight of myself/ in what used to be/ Cleaver’s shop-front window:/ a ghost haunts the place.// ‘Milk boy’, ‘milk boy’”. No swagger of muscularity here: but no fat either. Every necessary word tightens the line in place — and tightens our understanding, too. In one of the structural riffs at which he is so good, dead bees become “dusty thistledown/ on the ledges and on the carpet/ and even on the books about the war// stacked in nonchalant rows”.

The image, in other words, leads to a description of a house which in turn reveals its inhabitants, for whom The Bay Tree is an elegy. Such symbolic opening-up of foreground is the characteristic Dawe gesture. Sometimes he uses it as metaphor, for example in the not-altogether-apolitical Shock and Awe, a description of lightning which starts by comparing it to “a bin lid clattering suddenly down the back lane”.Often, though, as in View of the Island, it produces a tracking shot which lifts the mind’s eye “further and further/ to where I can only see,/ a glimpse of life”. In this quiet elegy for a lost love, transcendent perspective arrives at “souls’ awakening”.Dawe’s subtlety and lyric control are the mark of a true poet; but it is this graceful and apparently effortless incorporation of the human struggle for that transcendence which is the real measure of his importance.

— Fiona Sampson, The Irish Times


Gerald Dawe is one of our better known poets and he has an international reputation. This is his seventh collection; his first appeared in 1978 . . . He was born and raised in Belfast but these poems reflect a worldwide experience taking in Boston, Berlin and the Mediterranean as well as places closer to home. he explores big themes of history and origins. The poems are as much an inward journey as a geographical one with poems like ‘Family Tree’. Dawe remembers friends and colleagues in dedicating many of the poems to them and acknowledges who his mentors are. This is a collection of well-honed, thoughtful poems from a master of his art. A painting by Klee decorates the cover.

— Books Ireland

Year Published: 2008
Details: 56pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 446 6
ISBN HBK: 978 1 85235 447 3

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