IT'S A SAD ARSE THAT DON'T REJOICE


ONE ANOTHER
by Michael Coady
[unpriced, 179pp, The Gallery Press]


If, as one of Michael Coady's opening poems in One Another has as 'a midnight drinker's / defiant apologia / for farting to the skies', namely that 'it's a sad arse / that don't rejoice', then Coady, himself, is far from being such. He rejoices in the everyday, the commonplace, bringing us closer to share in it and its significance. To quote The Munster Express - 'Coady's work is rooted in a gentle sense of time and place that reflects his place in a strong community of life and history.'

     It's taken for granted here
     that every woman and man
     must harbour some kind of a song

     and if you should happen
     to stumble or lose your way
     then you'll be forgiven,
     or helped along if anyone
     else knows the words.
          (from 'Normal Singing')

Yet, this is nothing new in his writing. An earlier collection, All Souls
, was hailed as 'a book of unusual integrity, inviting us to enter its world and concerns.' Indeed, he positively wallows in the ordinary, reminding us of the risk we take in recording our history without even a nod in the direction of la vie quotidienne. That risk is of us losing our true identity and identities - our senses of community and self.

     Along with these neglected sources
     showing how it was
     we should especially attend

     the still unwritten moment
     flaring out and
     leaping from the tongue

     such as last night from Archie Morrissey
     prefacing an anecdote with
     I dunno whether this is true or not,
     but it happened

          (from 'The Holes in History')

Though, that's not to say Coady is not equally aware of the relative insignificance of all things when plotted against the vastness of time and space, as he explores so uncompromisingly in 'Checkpoint' – '...there is this measure of / the nitty-gritty impact / that I've made so far / upon the earth: // an unreckonable fraction / of a millimetre in / wear-down of polished / kerbstone, the first // on the bridge, / southwestern side, / after I step at half-past / midnight out of // Maggie Dunne's / in Carrick Beg...'

What he is, above all else, and perhaps more so than most, is a realist, covering a range of themes that relate directly to his experience of real life in real places with real people going about their real existences in real time.

     The man from Deerpark
     claimed he could read the cards
     and was convinced of a conspiracy
     to rob us of the sun.

     Most days he cycled into town
     for bread and talk,
     the obsession throbbing under the cap
     and hungry for a hearing.
          (from 'Rain on the Cards')

One such theme he returns to time and time again is that of change, whether personal, collective or natural, and its inevitability, particularly when it involves the whims of men, such as in 'Weathering Angels of Ardmore' where modern living has abandoned the communal power of fable in favour of the isolating activity of watching the 'clamorous box of shadows' from behind the safety of double glazing, or in 'Unstill Life' with its '...mansion that became / a seminary // until vocations to the priesthood / dried and withered, // seeds and seasons infiltrated / doors and windows // and broken floors, staircase / and bedrooms / blossomed.'

     Whenever you rage
     at indifferent hands
     marring place or form

     that touches your heart,
     try to be calm, and remember
     that much of the given

     you see as unspoiled
     and true was not
     conceived by intent

     but shaped by default,
     and in the deeper measure of things
     is not so long there:
          (from 'Recycling the Universe')

Although, generally, a serious man, (borne out, if nowhere more so, by a final section dealing entirely with his own heart surgery) Coady is not morbid. Indeed, to quote The Munster Express
again, One Another is '...a work of gravity and compassion, which also finds room for play.' This playfulness can be found in the odd spark of out-and-out humour, such as in 'Adhlacadh an Dreoilín' - '...you said / ...when quizzed by a student at Queen's / about where you stood on religion: / I'm a catalyst.  But I'm a Roman catalyst.' Even when dealing with his time in hospital, he manages to find a lighter side...

     When he's bad it takes three nurses
     to turn him and give him ease.  One tries
     to hurry down his medication.

     Swallow it Richie, swallow, swallow,
     you have to swallow it to get better.
     Come on now Richie,
     like a good boy, swallow.

     Richie tries to do as he is told;
     he makes the molto agitato
music
     of simultaneously swallowing
     while throwing up.
          (from 'Recitals from the Cross')

Equally, this jocose side to Coady is revealed in the technicalities of his writing. The cross-cultural fusion of Irish content and Japanese form of 'The Beech in Winter', a series of twenty-seven haiku written within the strictest of syllabic parameters, lends itself to raillery of the observed and heard, not only in concept, but in illustrating the snatches of absurdity to be found in the mundanities of ordinary life Coady excels at encapsulating.

     15
     Oh Jesus tonight!
     Her hot love-cry as they hit
     the final furlong.

     20
     My son is obsessed
     With skateboard glide and take-off.
     The Icarus thing.

     21
     During the Mozart
     she scribbles on the programme:
     Pick up dry cleaning
.
          (from 'The Beech in Winter')

However, as with his earlier collection, All Souls
, Coady doesn't rest on his laurels as a poet, but includes several sections of short prose pieces. These, in essence and like the poems, are social histories which, in the same way as those before them in Full Tide, are, to quote bookworm.ie, 'pithy and valuable.' Likewise, where the prose in Full Tide provided 'a book of diverse themes and textures', the narratives in One Another, in range and disposition, are something of a pleasure to read through: submerging oneself, one moment, in the pathos he evokes in anecdotes of past and place, of ghosts, customs, music, relationships and religion; the next in the sense of ancient fraternity aroused by the polyglot translations of 'The Gift of Tongues'; and another in the empathy stirred by the daily injustices, prejudices and double-standards faced by run-of-the-mill people in routine situations.

     I'm not saying it matters at all but I'd like to pass on the history...
     in case anyone ever comes along in the future and wants to know about...
     how it used to be and what happened...
          (from 'Whereabouts')

And this, really, is the crux of Michael Coady's vision of the world - the big picture is only important inasmuch as the minutiae are lived out - the whole only exists in relation to the detail.  Coady is skilled in bringing out these myriad constituent parts of the whole from under their shroud of perceived insignificance and into the sunlight of meaningfulness, where we discover they do, after all, matter quite considerably. After all, if we are to continue pigeonholing as insignificant the type of life experiences Coady records, and that are so similar to our own, then what are we saying of ourselves?

                 © John Mingay 2004