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REVIEW of The Conversation

By Liam Murphy, The Munster Express, Spring, 2015 (Ireland)

The poet Judith Barrington won the Gregory O'Donoghue International Poetry Competition in 2013 and this has resulted in Salmonpoetry, Cliffs of Moher publishing a new collection, The Conversation. It is easy to see what appealed to the judges of that competition as she has a subtle style that gathers force like an undertow and sometimes the illuminating prose-style of some poems surfaces in a blast of creative bubbles or a beautiful moment beneath a sky of possibilities.
The book is in three sections but once you accustom yourself to the style of this poet, who deals with death and loneliness as if it was in Bob Dylan's words - tangled up in blue - a blue of melancholy, a luminous blue of sea and sky or a writer/poet using "dark blue Parker Quink" to remember happier family times. Then a poem like Shopping For Death with the long line " die here or lie here or wait here for someone to visit" or return like a revenant, hits you in the gut.

I brought this book to a Writer's Weekend and felt that between the fine talk and 'Conversations With' and 'Interviews With' and questions about ' What inspired you?' and 'the impact of social media'  that I might find a way into a book that on the surface was oblique and 'telling it slant'. Then between cups of coffee and vague conversation the title poem with the regret in "It's too late now for that conversation we never had" cleared the way for me. That weekend was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the death of poet/anthologist Sean Dunne, whom I knew so well in life and I sensed that 'conversation' that we never had.
The section My World was a revelation, an introduction to a world the poet had  "to learn to love it" In this section I met a graveyard after or during a war, a dead mother, and engineer father, the shock of a bird 'fallen from the nest' and the majestic poem, The London Bombs "survivors poxy with soot", and the painful cliches in The Dates Of The Dead.

The change of locale in The Book Of The Ocean was beautiful. Like I had opened up a second, another collection of water and floating imagery; "words hissing in our ears with blood and with salt". I met "barnacled bulkheads"; "rats splashing in the bilges"; "submariners floating" and " pilots whose planes dropped from the sky". There was a lesbian in the poem The Dyke With No Name Thinks About The Sea. Two other poems in this section: Night Dive and The Old Diver fascinated me, reading after reading, especially out aloud at the table.
And if that wasn't enough, the third section: Long Love caught me again off-guard with  When Did It Start, and its opening lines; " This shouting of the body?/ Hold me, touch me/place your warm hand on my emptiness". Another Hospital Room plunged me into sadness with the strange hope of " Someone told me trees would heal you". The poem Long Love left me in despair  "eventually leaving nothing but another black hole". I read and reread, Not A Credo with its observation " Blue is everywhere, including inside me/ They so diminish this/ Who call it god - or even god's best work".

Oh, the fresh joy of discovering another new poet.



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