A Title Too Far


Autumn Beguiles the Fatalist, Michael Foley
[137pp, 7.99, paperback, Blackstaff Press]


Your heart lifts when a fat envelope flops on the doormat containing a new collection of poetry. Your heart sinks when the title hits the eyeball: Autumn Beguiles the Fatalist. Come back A J Ayer - all is forgiven. Despite the meaningless verbal decoration fronting the cover, like some Byronic hero in drag and down with the a touch of the vapours, it's an highly entertaining read: fun,  great rhythm and sometimes rhyme. The themes are the usual suspects with a wry, twist; especially, a distinctly Flann O' Brien touch to the poem titles. In fact, the contents page almost reads like a surrealist tract. 'God's Insomnia', had me chortling before I even read the substance of the poem. It's a shame about the cover title, for elsewhere Foley deflates pretension or rarefied, precious human endeavour, for example in his poem,'Broken Kings at Nightfall'.

And substance is, at times, a problem. After, the fun has died down, after being thoroughly entertained, is there anything else to be savoured in the work here? There are times when verbal decoration, surface playfulness, is all that Foley offers. In 'God's Insomnia', the end-line hits like a punch-line, makes you titter, entertains, but nothing important has been said. As well as a belly-laugh, I wouldn't mind more of a mental stir, some abstruse thought or phrase to disturb my mental equilibrium. In fairness, Foley does occasionally make you think, his words do disturb more than surface dust. His inventive poem, 'The Theories of Order and Chaos', has the particular mirror universal laws:

     The impenetrable mysteries of disorder and turbulence
     Chaos Theory eventually came to address.
     Too late for me, as it turned out, The laws
     Of the old clockwork universe were deep in my bones.

     Her bones being turned to dust by osteoporosis
     And terminal emphysema stopping her breath,
     She delivered the oldest lament:
 I would do
     Things all so differently if I had my time again.

At last, some interesting mix of ideas, grounded in something more heartfelt than surface cleverness, but then Foley hits Les Dawson mode in the last line of the last stanza, ever the performer:

     Impossible to hold back the question:
What things?
    
Somehow she heaved herself upright on thin brittle arms
     And from ruined lungs found enough breath to shout:
    
I wouldn't take so much cheek from you for a start.

I bet this goes down a storm at readings, try the odd working men's club, black suit, kipper tie, 70s sideburns and keep 'em laughing. Yet, laughs can become tedious.

This cannot be dismissed as light verse. It is accomplished, witty, well constructed poetry and it is great crack, surely, for those days when one has had enough of something  turgid, say Ezra Pound or some such other heavyweight master of wilful obscurantism. In truth, I warmed to the collection. It entertained from cover to cover, the sort of copy that would keep a smile on one's face on a delayed journey, but at journey's end, I'd leave the book on the seat for the next passenger. The work does not stay with me. It does what it does very well, but it does not do enough. A delightfully light collection, take it, then leave it.

But I could be wrong,. Consider the closing poem:

     Don't lay me in earth. I've always loathed not just the concept
     Of holy ground (a third of that unholy trinity - soil, faith and blood)
     But the physical stuff itself - clay, clabber, mud and muck,
     Heavy, sour, clinging, dark. Also, you get eaten by maggots.
     Death should not deliver me to, but emancipate me from earth
     In a final burst of incandescence - not to rot, dinner for insects,
     But to blaze and be liberated into air, free from responsibility
     And the same of the sweating self, not to be circumscribed
     Nor even detectable ... either halfway to distant stars ... or lodged
     In your throat (for eavesdropping at source) - though more likely
     In between, whirled round the globe. To soar above - or infiltrate
     -- But never to serve. Eternal the freedom and rapture of dust.
              ['The Nature of Dust']    

I don't know about Fatalism, I admit, somewhat indeterminately, but as I hover between a mote of disappointment and active approbation, I certainly have been beguiled. 

           Daithidh MacEochaidh 2007