The Gravity Wave – Peter Sirr


Peter Sirr


‘Peter Sirr draws on the classics — Homer, Catullus, Sappho — to ask if we, in comparison, live in a disenchanted world:
Diminished? Really? Gods don’t hold us, the temples
wither, the priests are all in sales
but the sun still shines, the oxen low
and the winedark sea is still as dark as wine.

He acknowledges world-traumas — the Final Solution, “Shahad, Rawan, Maram / this hand in the rubble / these broken shutters / shrapnel on the bed cover” — while risking, as Auden had it, a voice of affirmation and praise. I admire this book for how it registers the weight of the world, and also for its creative resistance to the brutality of the actual.

Sirr combines vivid forms, their hewn heft . . . with a felicitously wrongfooting weirdness all his own: “as if here we might be, when it’s all over, / walking through fields of Lidl”; “the deviceless avenue / notified by trees, alerted / by fuchsia, montbretia”. Each poem seems written with immense care, not only to arrange words scintillatingly, but also to preserve the briefest, most otherwise-ephemeral details. Reading these poems, we’re reminded that exactly where we’re vulnerable is where change is possible.’
— from the PBS judge’s citation

“I don’t want to count deer, I want/ to count in deer…” – Peter Sirr is as deliciously surprising as ever in Deer, Phoenix Park, one of the eight exceptionally fine sonnets which begin The Gravity Wave (Gallery €11.95). “Antler, Forest, Eyes,/ Stillness, Speed, Hide…I’d like/ this currency to fall between us/where we step invisibly from the car/slipped from ourselves to kneel/grass-lit and concentrated, close to a road/that keeps wobbling and clarifying/like the rim of the world or the end of speech.”

The breakdown of language in Joyce’s Oxen of the Sun episode comes to mind immediately perhaps because this is Sirr’s Ulysses-haunted Dublin. Familiar territory is always becoming stranger as he draws on the old touchstone writers, Homer, Catullus, Sappho among others. The Gravity Wave which gives this collection its title is a term from physics. It describes a ripple in the time-space fabric – an apt metaphor for the unsettling enchanting metamorphic wave which runs through so many of the poems like The Now Slice:

“Breakfast is over, you’ve gone to the hard world.
Ulysses struggles from a speaker, nearly dead.
He flails in the waves, a towering headland
staring him down. Where’s help here?
The floor turns stone, the kitchen Mycnaean.”

The breakdown of language in Deer, Phoenix Park is succeeded by Robotics, “Fake poets come up on the fake news/Robot lyrics cram the playlists…” a chilling look – with an echo of Yeats – at how “All these lies make an algorithm of the heart”. This collection is weighted with grief, particularly in the haunting voice of Radio Life and Eurydice Awake – a terrific and substantial poem which transfers the old myth to a modern dystopian landscape, “the paused air where you stand/in the middle of the car park,/the door opening, the car reversing”. Yet Sirr miraculously balances this chilly heartbroken world against a solid belief in humanity and the power of love. The sense of marvel, of possibility is tangible especially in the title poem:

“Where next for this gust
printing itself on your dress,
catching the rim of your hat, riffing
in the strands of your hair?”

— Martina Evans, The Ticket

Poetry Book Society Recommendation


Year Published: Autumn 2019
Details: 96pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 91133 765 2
ISBN HBK: 978 1 91133 766 9

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