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Review: Wheel, by Michael O'Neill

In Michael O'Neill's second collection of poems the wheel serves as a recurring metaphor. It is mentioned directly in pieces like the title poem and The Line Manager's Soliloquy, which repeats (a device O'Neill frequently employs) the lines 'too many' like a mantra, as in:

Too many hours hearing the wheels turn
within wheels, even as you long
for them to grind to a gradual,
silent halt; too many hours.

Even where direct mention is absent the presence of the wheel can be seen in theme, subject matter and even structure. For example in the poem Versions O'Neill uses the idea of cyclicality to shape the poems structure, the poetic voice writing and rewriting about his childhood for an adoption application,

My father in the 'study', book in hand,
pipe-smoke wreathed above his armchair.

Concluding with the 'scrawl',

His wife and son were out. He tried once more:
I had no family. Grew up on my own.

Watched clouds. Wrote stories opening
'My father in the 'study', book in hand...'

In this way we get an impression of the repeating patterns of life. This can be seen in Making a Will in which O'Neill's poetry reflects on preparations for death, even our deaths are discourse - not our own / but waiting for us in a well-groomed file; concluding with a forecast of recurrence, children whom we buckle up [...] will one day glimpse the inner shape / or lack of shape of what we tried to give.

These poems, despite the sombre life-death themes, are interspersed with understated humour, such as Adelphi Dreams in which the poetic voice woke while staying at a hotel,

and heard the fire-alarm.
The corridor was all tranced unconcern.
Not a soul materialised. Ah well,

I thought, plumping the pillow, if one must
Return to ashes, why not here, quick flames
Leaping higher than dreams of the sea.

The theme of young and old is carried through to the final poem Toys for the Boys which draws on the symbol of the wheel of fortune, concluding the collection, although this wheel's a toy, / you're bound to it, each of you, man and boy.