Dermot Healy: “The Ballyconnell Colours”

Stark poems, cold form, fierce emotional heat.

The colours of life are often drained, washed-out, running into each other like waters – or storms or skies. Location is impermanent, unmoored (a favourite trope), identity tumbling; perhaps what coalesence there is rests, moves rather, in the acceptance of the flux, the world that will not be held down. This is hard:

Sometimes I am bewildered
By all this foolish energy
Battering away
Miles from people.

I envy those
Who live upriver
At the quiet source.
Here we are forever

Stepping between
The incoming roar
Of life and the tides
That carry death out

(Prayer)

Much of the domestic detail – expressed in this collection with precise images – is lost as soon as uttered: a man comes onto the high street, and is split into not only two minds but two people with two directions which will be taken without purpose (although the purpose will come later – the narrative proceeds the happening). It’s not difficult to envisage, as in Rosses Point for instance, the equal claim to existence of the dead, “though you can’t see a soul” among them any more than you can among the living, sense though in the “solitude they lack” the living sense which is a temporary surfeit to existence, the individual consciousness, apart from its practicalities and pleasures, a correlate of the living and dead as one, as vulnerable, open to wounds.

For children in Domestic Lives , section 6:

… you will distrust the tempers of parenthood.
All our arguments to preserve your faith
Mean nothing. You will be forever alone

Notwithstanding the evidence of art and laughter.

These are love poems, love of people and place, not in spite of pain and wounds, emptiness, loss and general suffering but through them, by them, in all their colours. A companion volume to A Goat’s Song, this is largely as resonance of feeling, texture, and imagery but sometimes by direct narrative correlate as in The New Town – echoes of hospitalisation for alcohol recovery, the motif of writing itself being a temporary balm but ultimately leaving the void that all words and stories leave. Even in the intimacy of fulfilled relationship we see – in O Woman:

O woman for whom
I have withdrawn

From naming the brilliant things of the earth
Lest they might lose their vividness,

Can we now without myth
Sustain the emptiness?

It’s the sentimentalities, the convenient phrases of social enjoyment, much as they are important, that are emptied out to an honest celebration, joy and not in the least contradictory melancholy that marks Healy here. It would be wrong to end without pointing out that there are myriad points to be made about each poem; Healy has many ways of writing. Just one point I’d make is that there’s a sense of bordering on imagism of great compression(Li Po/has circles/under his eyes/from the drink….) and more extended imagery that fuses short breaths of expression into fluidity (and see the magnificent Rain is Coming as an example here).

Overall, a great collection. Storming, in fact.