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Review: Those April Fevers, by Mary O'Donnell

Gillian Drake, Roundyhouse Poetry Magazine, June 2015

These lines from Baltic Amber, the first poem in Mary O'Donnell's new collection, convey the main themes of the book: transience and endurance. Ageing - her own, other individuals', the planet's - is a recurring concern; history, art and relationships too are considered.

The range is wide, from minutely observed nature poetry to global warming to social and political commentary, always with a humane and compassionate outlook. The poems are rich with a variety or emotions - from the humorous and playful of 'this naked ageing/child at play' (Pleasure Principles), to the wry 'I still wonder why I stayed. / It slid its streets around my waist '... (Dublin). At times the tone is meditative and reflective, unsentimentally nostalgic, as in The World is Mine '... when I was ten and watched /an orchard brightening ... '; at others it is passionate, intense and occasionally satirical as in the long prose-poem An Irish Lexicon.

Conversational and free-flowing, the poems are accessible with an immediate impact upon the reader. But the simplicity of the language also allows striking, fresh imagery - 'new light pouring into the hollows of shells' (The World is Mine); 'The small boats, like the lit souls of the just born/ and just dead, shivered far out on the water '(Moon Viewing Point); 'worms of light/wriggle through heather, fondle globes of dew' (Wicklow). Light is a recurring image. The language and visual imagery give a sense of clarity, lighting the poems within.

Although free of rhyme and formal metric structure, forms are subtly disciplined, evoking speech patterns and natural rhythms. The World is Mine flows with the sense of dawn breaking, an inevitable unfolding which the poet nevertheless feels can no longer be taken for granted: 'What I want is to know/that this can continue'... 'The atmosphere is thinner, earth threadbare ...icecaps/melt and deserts spread like spilled ochre.' There is hope and a sense of wonder as the impetus of the poem leads to a description of daybreak, and she finds at least for now 'the world still mine.'

The collection contains a number of prose-poems. Dense in ideas and imagery, they may be lengthy, (An Irish Lexicon), or shorter (Wolf-Month). The latter is a meditation on the month of January encompassing nature, religion, folklore and more. Very like a haibun in tone - but without the included haiku which define the haibun form - Wolf-Month employs poetic prose to great effect. "Look back, friend, to a world lying fallow, then forward to spring's slippery sap, the spout and leak of it, wherever leaf and purple and acid yellow whistle out." The poem ends with a reflection on 'the sense of myself passing through', a distillation of the themes of transience and endurance with which the entire collection is infused.