The Fire Step
Tom French, The Fire Step, Loughcrew, The Gallery Press, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-86235-477-0 paperback 11,85 € / 978 1 85235 787 7, hardback 18,50 €
1Tom French does not hold an MFA in creative writing nor does he teach creative writing in a university. He writes neither experimental, nor strictly formal nor LGBT poetry. What he does write is lyric poetry in its simplest, purist and most engaging form. The Fire Step, French’s second collection with The Gallery Press, makes it clear that in the eight years that separate Touching the Bones and this new collection, French has continued to record his delicate perceptions of family, friends and surroundings. He has also intensified his remarkable use of the simple in order to produce the memorable. The thirty-five poems here, many of which first appeared in little magazines in Ireland or abroad, range from long sequences – “Real Estate,” “In the Night Garden,” “Sundays at Noon”, “A Flurry” “Apparel”, and “In Memory of My Father”, – to several four – or six-line vignettes. French has been “accused” of writing formal poetry, given that he employs stanzas and lines of roughly equal length, but this practice varies from poem to poem and appropriately captures the speaker’s voice in a variety of contexts. ‘Angel’, the first poem of the sequence “A Flurry,” takes the shape of the mysteriously blemished snow angel the speaker contemplates.
2The jaunty rhythms of the opening poem “Table of Ages” stand as an invitation to what is to come: furtive glances, mysteries, remembrance, all of them tempered by French’s perplexed and unfailingly distanced regard. Tom French loves words and puts them to good use as in the bare four-line poem “Moss” where the simplicity of his words and subtle repetition incarnate the abjection of war.
The limbs of the injured might have passed,
after the night sisters returned from the woods
with baskets of moss to dress their wounds,
for the limbs of beech and sycamore and ash.
3The five-poem sequence “Real Estate” details the emotion of a speaker on the cusp of a new life. In a style reminiscent of Denise Levertov, the oddments of a family in transit, a newly installed earth rod, a bed sheet doubling as a drop cloth and “An oval of fresh paint on the hall wall” confront the constancy of stones and beams, the unspoken promise of a new home. In the longest of the sequences, “In the Night Garden”, past and present, dream and reality, myth and history, personal and public, suffering and survival spring from the soil. This occurs with quiet ceremony, but the final poem, “January 23rd, 2009”, brings the series to an end with bemusement:
Every receptacle was brimming in Rahoon cemetery; after the downpour, fresh water for the journey.
4The contemporary and the historic bump elbows in these poems, surprisingly but not inappropriately. The farcical arrest of “Policewomen Arresting Death in a Field of Genetically Modified Wheat” leads smoothly into exploits of a horseman-buffoon in “Ascendancy,” and the printing machines of “Gogarty’s Printers, Kilmainhamwood”, “destined / for museums and pristine still” assume their double role.
5The later poems introduce a graver tone. The elegy, “In Memory of My Father,” combines five apparently disparate poems as if to testify to the ineffable mystery of the man’s existence. This was man who had mastered the intricacies of black ice but bungled his cameo film appearance by not managing “to act / natural.” This was a man who bewildered his son to the end and whose adamant but irrational frugality, would seal his inglorious fate.
6The final poem, “Woodpigeon” traces the speaker’s path along the circuitous road toward aborted creation and “at last, to rest”. We are grateful for such simplicity.
Pour citer cet article
Taffy Martin, « The Fire Step », Études irlandaises, 35-1 | 2010, 163-164.
Taffy Martin, « The Fire Step », Études irlandaises [En ligne], 35-1 | 2010, mis en ligne le 30 septembre 2010, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL : http://etudesirlandaises.revues.org/1863Haut de page
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