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Session by Pete Mulllineaux
A Poet Prepared: Pete Mullineaux looks insightfully at traditional Irish music. Reviewer: Anne Marie Kennedy
The Bristol born, Galway based poet, author and playwright Pete Mullineaux knows his way confidently around traditional Irish music. His poetry collection, Session, (Salmon Poetry), dedicated to his mother, with artwork by Fran McCann, is guaranteed to leave his readers wanting more.
The poetry, like the regional variations in the music, varies in style and tone, the common link being the poet’s voice as a silent observer. Mullineaux uses evocative images, insightful observation, humour, playfulness and nostalgia. He is a scrutiniser of intricacies, a watchful eye, someone who listens to the tunes and observes the people who play them. The reader sees the players’ eyes, fingers, their bodies, the body language and the resulting inter-personal and inter-musical relationships being formed. Mullineaux also explores the emotions and psychologies of his subjects with curiosity and admiration.
One of this writer’s favourites is ‘A Piper Prepares,’ where the speaker intimately describes the uileann piper’s preamble. It is a tantalisingly visual poem with so much anticipation in the opening lines that the reader hopes the preamble goes on. ‘It’s almost like shooting up; a captivating ritual / as the belt is looped around the forearm; the buckle/ notched, blowpipe joined to leather bag; a shard/ of cloth, folded between elbow and rib for comfort.’ Mullineaux has the speaker in this poem watch the piper assemble the instrument and describe it in slow motion detail. ‘Drones are attached like pistol silencers, regulators poised,’ and while acknowledging the tune of the same name, ‘the piper’s apron,’ he remarks on the leather patch across the lap which provides ‘protection from the crazed jabs of the chanter, / its manic hypodermic dance.’ As the tune begins, ‘a primal hum vibrates,’ and ‘a gasp/ for air as the bellows fill and suddenly there’s life/ in the lungs and wind in the reeds…’
‘The Five Mile Chase,’ is a tribute to Patrick Street. Andy Irvine, John Carty, Kevin Burke and Jed Foley have their individual stage movements noted and matched to rhythm, playing styles and character nuances. ‘A tilt of the chin for the pigeon on the gate/ a bend in the waist for the stack of wheat/ a wink in the eye for the blue eyed rascal/ a slip in the hip for a trip up the stairs.’ It’s a twelve line piece that could be sung in jig time. Hup!
Mullineaux uses a coupling motif throughout the collection. In ‘The Lads of Leitrim,’ an accordion and a flute player meet up regularly to play a session in a snug in Manorhamilton. The poet compares their ease and joy in the music to a long standing marriage. ‘Could there be a love closer to their hearts/ than this – something to cherish for a lifetime -/ never to part, for better or worse/ in sickness and in health.’ As they launch into the Fermoy Lasses, he declares ‘these fellas are wedded to the music.’
Another couple, Paddy Canny and Frankie Gavin, have their musical communion told with slow lyrical ease in ‘Cave Music II.’ Canny, ‘the elder statesman has eyelids drawn / tight like a mole,’ while the younger Frankie, ‘allows the older man the lead, follows the set tone/ finding his own empathetic touch.’ Mullineaux provides the snapshot, watching the young Gavin who could have closed his eyes, but chose not to. Gavin, who was ‘a generation apart’ at the time, kept watch of the older man, ‘aware how much this moment must be fixed, / treasured deep in his own vaults.’
Watching Dermot Byrne and Floriane Blancke’s playing compelled the poet to write ‘Tabhair Dom Do Lámh.’ Byrne’s accordion sits ‘like a sleeping child in his lap,’ and Blancke ‘leans forward, the harp/against her cheek, listening/ for a heartbeat…’ The poem moves swiftly from the womb analogy, to a child one, when Byrne ‘tickles and squeezes’ the accordion, and like an infant, growing with the pace and momentum of the tune, together, the duo, ‘fast forward, to courtship, / dancing, making crazy love / through music.’
This aptly titled collection, Session, by Pete Mullineaux is a gem. Encore, si’l vous plait? It is available from www.salmonpoetry.com, bookshops and music stores.