Voix Celeste, John F. DeaneNo text at all on this mustard coloured cover, which has the grainy texture of board. But there is design formed of a line of 14 triangles roughly in the middle. Each little triangle is joined to the next by either a whole side or point to point. The resulting shape curves into something like a lower case G, though it doesn't make you think of a letter at all, more a pleasing piece of geometry. The triangles are not filled, but outlined in red-purple ink.

Guillemot Press, 2022 £10.00

A sense of rapture

John F. Deane’s second (beautiful hardback) Guillemot chapbook is inspired by Olivier Messiaen’s music. Each poem is subtitled after a Messaien piece, but one may wonder if the inspiration wasn’t so much the music, but the deeply-felt Catholic faith that guided Messaien and also sustains Deane. All the poems suggest as much ‘the living shepherd, Christ’ (‘The Poisoned Glen’), ‘I wait upon the Lord, doleful, expectant’ (‘A Great Hunger’), culminating in the last poem’s final, lingering line: ‘alelleluia, amen amen oh Christ, our Christ, amen’ (‘Omega’).

However, although Catholicism provides a framework for Deane’s thought and poetry, its presence is overshadowed by the fact that Deane is a superlative, perhaps pantheistic, nature poet. His eye and ear are fully attuned to the Irish landscape and skies, his successive clauses building a resonant picture of the whole:

The music soft, insinuating; vesper-time,
the blackbird’s song bemoaning the dying light;
late autumn evening, its leaden heaviness
about me. I stood, at the edge of the darkening
impenetrable forest, while night grew black
with clouds shrouding all the stars
     [‘The Dawning’]

Often, the overt layering-in of Deane’s religious belief seems to me an unnecessary afterthought or intrusion. Occasionally, though, his two preoccupations merge more seamlessly, more like Heaney, as in ‘The Water Lily’:

I drove through misting rain, across the prairie
peatland; I could hear the high-pitch whistle
of the peewit; waters were dark in the small lakes
though the water-lilies rose in moon-white purity
out of the black, quickening mud. On the island
the church is island, and the inner room, too,
is island. In the sanctuary a red, flickering light
iterated the old sureties of font
and presence.

The old mysteries here exemplify the sense of rapture in Deane’s writing, what (in ‘The Ewes in Winter’) he describes as ‘joy in the grace of the perplexing / many-patterned islands of the imagination’. While not being imitative of Messaien (and how could it be?) there is no doubt that this poet’s work is highly musical.

Matthew Paul