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Review of 'The Instruments of Art'
Eugene O'Brien, Irish Book Review, winter 2005 (volume 1, issue 3)Previous review of 'The Instruments of Art'... To the 'The Instruments of Art' page...
Poems of LIfe and Art
These two books share a serious purpose. Both Philip Casey and John F. Deane see poetry as a discourse within which serious issues facing the human condition can be addressed... John Deane's collection is less immediate but more cerebral as he broaches questions of being and living, looking at the world through a dialectic of faith and doubt. Structurally the book is divided into six sections, and he is evoking different locations, often religious places, where the mind and the body connect: 'the intersection of earth and heaven' (p.70). He does, at times, evoke the connection between the transcendent and the immediate:
You and I are closer still
In the fire’s glow, grateful this far
For love and friendship. (p.7)
It is an intertextual collection, with evocations from the Bible and the world of art as well as individuals remembered as the dedicatees of the poem. The style is modernist and can be a little opaque to the reader. There is a strong religious sense to these poems, as the idea f creating images of God is posed again and again. I think that for a reader imbued with this religious tradition, these poems would certainly evoke attitudes and beliefs; for myself, I find the ongoing religious intentionality a little one-dimensional.
In the second section 'The Artist', 14 sonnets describe attempts in religious art to capture the image of God in specific churches: 'can you paint 'god’s fall'' (p.29); 'God the artist holds us always and in every way' (p.27); 'Christ’s face again imprinted on the earth' (p.29); 'This artist Christ' (p.30). Here the notion of art as religious in origin is pursued:
Can you draw harmony
From the hammering of nails into stretched wrists?
The instruments of men's art, and how divinity
Has subjected itself to the consequences. (p.32)
Yet despite this strong seam of faith in the transcendent, there is a core of doubt running through this book as well, a doubt which has the effect of balancing the more overt fideism of the poems. In the final poem, he voices doubts about the efficacy of art to capture the deity:
Can art redeem us? A vase of purple iris against a yellow
Background, can it affect our shameful
Politics, our aggrieved lusts? This darkest evening
Of our unknowing, rooks gathering, the lilacs beaten down. (p.118)
These doubts raise this book to the level of dialogue as opposed to an enumeration of religious art and faith, and thicken what can be at times a very sustained religious and fideistic meditation.
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