Arc Publications logo

50 years
at the cutting edge
of poetry publishing

Review: Wheel, by Michael O'Neill

The blurb says Michael O'Neill's Wheel is full of revolving perspectives and turns on an axis of opposites. This is an angle on it and the poet may well have intended it, but I found these fine and enjoyable poems developed in a satisfying linear manner and with powerful or unexpected conclusions. There are many different tones from the tender poem relating to his son's questions - Can I take my toys to heaven?... Does God have any friends - like Paul and Graham? to

A sect of two, we shape a creed
from gold and angels and the Spanish Main.

Your bricks, strewn around the room, await
ascension into some untoppling structure.

from God Talk

There is uncertainty, transience combined with the certainty of death threaded throughout. Of a death in a motor bike accident, (Cheverny), grief finds its expression in a quiet description of the lead-up to the accident and recreated images:

you'll come into view, helmeted and black,
astride the bike you died on, but alive

to the telling conclusion

standing a road that seems to have no end.

This poem has satisfying off-rhymes, e.g. rain and sign, road and fa├žade while many are free verse. Making a Will has a wonderful perspective on the subject and a satisfying rhyme pattern, as in the first verse:

Once again we must entrust to those
who view us by appointment from their desks
the shape or lack of shape of destined loss,
the terror our politeness masks...

The poem concludes of the document

we know will one day glimpse the inner shape
or lack of shape of what we tried to give.

The unsentimental sadness over the death of a cat through kidney failure has an accomplished conclusion,

...Head in hands,
I memorized MacNeice's lines that start

'Out of proportion? Why, almost certainly'
and heard a silence, kink-tailed, round my ankles

from Post-Mortem

This is a deeply thoughtful, compassionate and intelligent collection.