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Review of Sinead Morrissey's 'Through the Square Window'-Martyn Crucefix, Poetry London Summer 2010 no. 66

Sinead Morrissey's work has always been hungry for the world beyond the self and though a recent review of Through the Square Window argued she is in part negotiatinig with her Irish poetic forebears- Mahon and Heaney mostly- this is too parochial a view. She has travelled further out than this; it is Frost, Plat and Bishop whose influenc is evident. Helen Vendler has said of Bishop that she "staked out travel, in all its symbolic reaches of pilgrimage, exile, homelessness, exploration, exaustion, colonialising, mapping. and being lost"; and this is true of Morrissey's The State of Prisons (2005) but also of this new book which sweeps through Quebec, Amsterdam, Japan, Berne, Arkansas and home to Belfast. Stevens teased Frost for his over-reliance on "subjects" and Morrissey's worl can sometimes seem propelled bu her irressible love of information. But there is no denying she can orchestrate poems that are densely packed tous de force and many possess a terrific centrifugal poower in their desire to encounter the world. So Through The Square Window explores the boundary between self and the other; "the inside/ holding flickeringly, and the / outside clamouring in" (Storm).

The title's other allusion to childhood (differently shaped windows in the now defunct BBC Play School programme) and the poet's son's birth fors a backbone through this new collection giving ita more conventional and domestic feel than its predecessor. The first poem, "Matter", begins with seventy lines concerning historical theories of the spontaneous generation of life from Aristotle to Paracelsus and Leeuwenhoek but finallu locates itself in the new life of the child, "feet  to my heart/ and skull to the pelvic cradle", successfully making the creation of life (now scientifically understood) seem miraculous still. Elsewhere the vulnerability of childhood is uppermost in Morrissey's penchant for long lines can lead to the looseness of rhythm and even xpression as when she tries to imagine her child's memories-

"in the womb or back, still further, in the undiscovered bourne poor Hamlet dreamed
of entering without map or compass aas a deliverance
from the siht of our back
garden in september. the apple tree
keeled over and cankered..."

(Augustine Sleeping Before He Can Talk)


But mostly these parenthood are delightful and insightful as when the mother's desire to control the child's development if language is defeated by his prodigious acquisitive powers that confound all expectations:

...then this:
at six o'clock the ghost
of a child might come and eat porridge.
We are speechless.
(Cathedral)



Previous review of 'Through the Square Window'... To the Sinead Morrissey page... To the 'Through the Square Window' page...
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