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In a Hare’s Eye by Breda Wall Ryan

Writing.ie | Poetry

By Hubert O'Hearn

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Doíre Press 2015, Trade Paperback 79 pages, €12 cover price

It’s no great feat of scholarship to state that a book of poetry is observational; all poetry and indeed all books are that in one way or another. However, when the observations of a poet become conversational, interactive with the objects or scene within view, now that is something that makes one sit up straighter in the reading chair and murmur, ‘Hang on a minute. Now this is interesting.’

I actually owe Breda Wall Ryan and her publisher Doíre Press a bit of an apology. What with In a Hare’s Eye being a slim volume, it managed to burrow itself hare-like amidst the warren of rubble on my coffee table for a good two months. Reading was well worth the wait, cleaning perhaps less so.

Ryan writes exactly the kind of poetry I admire, clean and pure language with a rock solid meter you could set a Rolex to. Something like this, from Birch Tree Grove:

This shelter belt
on the edge
of a Wicklow wood:
I have seen
faded photographs
of headscarved women
in a grove like this

The advantage is that the reader is able to settle in straightaway, no moment of confusion. It is a slight paradox that the deeper the thought, the cleaner the format. John Keats knew that principle and ran with it, quite literally as when writing about the romantic figures in his Ode to a Grecian Urn:

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Throwing in comparisons to Keats is rather rare air for a modern poet; indeed there are more than a few who might even take it as an insult. However, I think it applies to In a Hare’s Eye as Ryan does converse with her subjects in the same manner as the renowned classicists, which is what made me sit up and take notice of her poems in the first place. More so, and to take this discussion firmly into the twenty-first century, there is a certain quantum transformational effect whereby the object viewed changes as a result of the viewing. If that all sounds rather obtuse and teetering all too close to the formidable Cliffs of Pseuds, have a look at her sonnet-length Miracle (a reflection on Littlewood’s Law of Miracles).

Littlewood’s law states what we call miracles
are merely happenings of some significance
which everyone encounters once a month;
a one per million chance. Or so says science,
but let me put a case for the reverse:
a blind man with a chainsaw hired to slash
the heavy lower branches from our ash.
Each day he leaned his white cane on our fence,
then fingertipped to read both girth and bark,
while we kept distant from his chainsaw’s roar.
He lopped and logged, despite his inner dark,
and when he’d worked a month, we gathered up
the logs he’d cut. All ash. No beech or oak, no bone
or flesh. And that was miracle enough.

I’m pretty sure I could entertain (or torture to tears) a lecture hall for a solid hour on this one poem, however I shall try and be brief. Consider all the objects or subjects observed: Littlewood’s Law, the blind man, the trees which are observed by both the children and the blind cutter, and then of course the memory itself. Each one changes by the acts of observation and measurement. The Law is no longer legitimate, the blind man becomes a miracle worker, the trees of course are cut down, and the memory is now much much more than just a child’s small remembrance. Stylistically, I would also like you to note that the one rhyming couplet (slash/ash) cuts the poem as neatly in half as, well, a chainsaw.

I chose that one poem for my example demonstrating Ryan’s skill, yet I could have done the same by just randomly flipping through In a Hare’s Eye and sticking a pencil in at any page. I thoroughly enjoy how she makes viewing a painting (Jael’s Testimony) an opportunity to wander in the minds of both the artist and the figures in the painting alike. That’s that Keats and the urn thing again. And I will admit to a few tears when I read The Room, an aching work which attempts to explain to a brother who has complained that their dead mother has left no message that indeed she did; through every object in her room there is a gift, a thought, a memory, a meaning.

My coffee table is many things – a mess, a desk, a place to dine and occasionally something on which to place a cup of coffee. In this most recent case, it was an island of buried treasure. Well done coffee table! And even better done, Breda Wall Ryan.

Be seeing you.

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