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Review of Paula Meehan's Painting Rain - Barry Cole, Ambit Magazine

27 July 2009
Paula Meehan first appeared, twenty-five or so years ago, with Return and No Blame (1984), as a brightly coloured Irish fledgling. Painting Rain shows that she has, since then, turned into a bird of paradise. (OK, I know it's the male that has the colours, but this is poetry, where metaphor rules.)

There are - or is it her age? - more elegies than in previous collections. Tricky ground, but hers, for antecedents and friends, are full of cool craft and feeling; no sloppiness or lack of originality. A fine, left-field, example, with a wonderful twist of serendipity, is 'Hagiography':

Just back from Eigse Michael Hartnett
You'd have to laugh. His corpse not even cold yet.

Bery aboriginal to be beneath a sign as the brand new estate:
Address - Michael Hartnett Close, Newcastle West.

Its position is perfect - right opposite Coole Lane.
Stood there in the pouring rain with his son

Across from The Healing Streams Therapy Centre,
St Vincent de Paul, within earshot of the river

On a quiet day.
Get this: the story Joan MacKernan
Told us of the poetry workshop for children

Earlier, when she asked who'd heard of Michael Hartnett,
The lad who cried 'Miss, Miss, I live in Michael Hartnett'.

An Eigse is an annual arts festival (or, in this case, a wake?). The child, of course, lives in an eponymous place (or my reading is bonkers).

'Her Void: A Cemetery Poem', has one of those magic stanzas one always wants to see, the sort of beyond-prose always hoped for: 'The whirr of a bee's wing is music / and the roisined bow of the cricket, / and sad percussive raindrops.' Even detached from the preceding four stanzas, and the final, this is the purist poetry, a sort of unconscious amalgam of haiku and tanka (this is, on my part, a bit pretentious).

Meehan is also a master of the formal (back again to elegies) with the sonnet 'A Remembrance of my Grandfather, Wattie, Who Taught Me to Read and Write'. In short, the poet sees a book, snagged in 'the high reaches of the oak?' The idea is that, whether chucked by a 'child let out of school', it's cast 'heavenwards' (unstated), and goes back, as it were, to the tree's roots.

Notably, she has a grand encomium from England's new poet laureate, who writes: 'Paula Meehan is that rare and precious thing - a vocational poet of courage and integrity... From present-day Dublin to Ancient Greece, the myths and flawed heroes of her poems give back to us our own lives...' I can only concur.
Previous review of 'Painting Rain'... Next review of 'Painting Rain'... To the Paula Meehan page... To the 'Painting Rain' page...
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