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This review is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

Cover of When the Tree Falls
Sue LeighAftergrass
Jane Clarke, When the Tree Falls (Bloodaxe), £9.95
Jane Clarke grew up on a farm in Roscommon and now lives in Glenmalure, County Wicklow. Both her first book, The River (2015), and this, her second, are rooted in rural life. Loss is never far away in her work but neither is delight – in the natural world, people, the particular quality of a place. She writes with clarity, spareness and lyrical intensity. (The poems are largely written in simple two- or three-line stanzas.) And her voice, as Anne Enright has said, ‘slips into the Irish tradition with such ease it is as though she had always been at the heart of it’.  

There is an acceptance in When the Tree Falls of the rhythm of things: birth, death, regrowth and renewal. At its heart is an elegiac sequence for the poet’s father in which she reflects on the time of his illness and death, mourning him and moving on. Many of these poems draw on the daily life of the farm – ‘his time is precious as a dry spell / when there’s silage to be cut’ – and at night when he is ill ‘old hurts / and worries surface / like stones in a well-tilled field’. After his death the poet recalls her father’s voice in the names of the fields and his whistling in the call of the curlew. ‘Aftergrass’ also raises environmental concerns as she describes after a heatwave ‘shallows more shallow / than we’ve ever seen’ and imagines telling her dead father that ‘the sun has scorched / every blade of grass’.   ...

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