Another Hunger, John Fennelly
Smith/Doorstop, 2018 £7.50
Grief, understood through a child’s eyes
Another Hunger opens sombrely. ‘Chaser’ sees the poet wade through dingy pubs, as a child and later as an adult. As a youngster, he seeks his father, but this errand is foregrounded by family dysfunction:
Mum sent me to fetch at least a score
before you frittered
all your wages in the pub or bookie
As an adult, Fennelly finds his now-deceased parent in himself. Gaelic terms interrupt the verse, a compulsion that points to Fennelly’s Irish ancestry. We read the poet as haunted, brooding on the parallels between himself and his late parent. He concludes:
I find I’m more
of a gambling man, Dad,
than I bet you’d ever have guessed
Fennelly uses such references regularly.Childhood memory is a focal point, and it offers a means of representing grief and mourning. Through the child’s-eye lens, loss is understood through euphemism. An uncle’s suicide in ‘The Present’ is seen by a young girl as a joke (‘Uncle Sean really could do anything / and walking on air, this was a new game’). It is also conceptualised in custom, and phrases like ‘sorry for your trouble’, which confuse through their very repetition.
In Fennelly’s poems, these fragments misshape the true extent of loss and leave its reality unsaid. In ‘Altar Boys’ he displays this overtly. Here, a funeral seems inconsequential and convivial. Fennelly portrays characters who
thought little of permanence [ ... ]
finding you could swap Crystal Palace Cards,
conkers and sweets more easily at a funeral
Nostalgia is common in biographical writing, although youthful innocence invariably serves as a benchmark, rather than defining the text directly. Fennelly, however, employs childhood recollection to marked effect. His young self is a cipher, emphasising the profound vulnerability and trauma shared by the adult author.
The pamphlet does not suggest that a disorientated response to grief is a feature only of childhood. Rather, it evokes absence and confusion carried for life. It illustrates vividly how those left behind must struggle with uncertainty until they, too, go to the grave.