Hares and Turkeys

Eye of the Hare, John F Deane (98pp, 9.95, Carcanet)
Arguing with Malarchy,
Carola Luther (82pp, 9.95, Carcanet)

In an earlier review of A Little Book of Hours, his 2008 collection, I wrote of John Deane creating 'a highly contemporary form of religious meditation... the Christian elements are used with a natural, unconscious grace', and I'm pleased to confirm that his most recent poems again live up to this description. The difference now is that he is older and some of the poems have acquired a noticeably more elegiac patina.
The risen Christ still strolls around his Irish landscapes in poems like 'Edge of the Known World', where fishermen stitch their nets for hours on 'the old unyielding ground', but now the poems take in saints and apostles and they mingle with the Irish peasantry of Deane's memories. There are some beautiful poems here about childhood, domestic chores recalling Eavan Boland's similar vein, and also the human predicament: 'There will be a gathering of bones' Deane asserts, even from dark places like Auschwitz, when 'the murdered Christ at last / has gathered himself together out of the tomb' ('The Garden, Waiting').
The natural world is also a place painted in sacramental colours in Deane's poetry:

      red, for martyrs, for the late year-standing of the dogwood,
      The gift of tongues, the long delay of Good Friday...

Enormously lyrical and affecting, Deane seems here to be producing painterly work: poems such as this, 'Midsummer Poem' and 'Snow' find belief and wonder everywhere. The title poem brings this confrontation down to a stand-off along a gun-barrel: looking at the Hare, Deane sees 'a green world/easy under sunlight, of sweet sorrel and sacred herbs', but he turns away, thus 'absolved'.
A long sequence, 'Achill: The Island', originally published in 2009, is also included here and rounds off this generous collection. In this, Deane continues his explorations of landscape, time and memory. Often, as in 'The Monastery', the land is waiting 'till the Spirit comes again'. No one interested in modern poetry which explores redemptive, religious themes can afford to miss out on this volume.

Carola Luther's second book came as a disappointment after the generosity of Deane's work: lots of thin lyrics, a sequence with a Beckettian protagonist, Malarchy, and poems which feel like unresolved sketches at times. Luther's treatment of a hare (in 'Ending') involves much repetition of 'like a hare', lots of thumping rhymes and, in the end, 'Where did it go? / I don't know...perhaps / in the long-lost hill / of the valley'. Rhythm is made to do the work here, but the hare remains a vanished rumour: from the cover, a hen's eye glares at the reader. A powerful image, for sure, but it's in the poems where the power should reside.

     Martin Caseley 2011