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This review is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.

VERTIGO OF GLADNESS MICHAEL O'SIADHAIL, Poems 1975-1995 (Bloodaxe)

Micheal O'Siadhail, by his own admission, was a late starter. He began writing poetry at the age of 26, after an epiphanic vision in St Stephen's Green, which he recollects in his introduction to Poems 1975-1995:

For all the terror of our century, for all our angst and knowingness, just wandering there watching ducks in a pond and listening to the gossip and laughter of people as they passed, the world seemed sweet and new. There were tiny glances of infinity. All I needed was to dare, to tauten towards the light like a sunflower... I wanted to seize just one of those glances of infinity. I wanted to tell the world.

This passage provides a good barometer of the poetry to follow, most of which is inspired, idealistic, and celebratory. Yet, like the above passage, it is far from subtle. There is little sense of understatement, of leaving the most important things unsaid. Instead the poems attempt to say more than their language can contain, expanding outward and sideways until they burn out, leaving, as O'Siadhail writes, 'the ashes of stars in my bone'. O'Siadhail's work is poignant and accomplished, but ultimately it does not awaken or tap into or even subvert the mysteries which it seeks, as he himself might say, to 'enfold'. The poet succeeds outwardly - conceits and metaphor are cleverly employed, while the sonnet is deftly and consistently tackled - yet few poems, to use Shakespeare's words, transform ...


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