Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

First Cut, John Fitzgerald

New Irish Voices No. 3,
Southword Editions, 2017  £5.00 / €7

Getting the reader in

John Fitzgerald has an expert way of drawing the reader into a poem. I think it’s partly the precision: you see the detail immediately — as in ‘Light Itinerary’:

The backside bulb of the pale grey walking man
is flashing

as though his phone’s on silent in his
back pocket

But it’s also something to do with the way he harnesses the energy of the syntax. ‘1 WTC’ is a wonderful example of this. Its form is one fifteen-line stanza, a single sentence, controlled perfectly:

A schoolyard in Tribeca, mid-morning, mid-winter,
brittle sunshine, sharp inland wind, the yard
ringing with swarming cries [ ... ]

Each poem-beginning is sharply different, but curiosity is often a factor. Here’s the start of ‘Lost Heritage’:

The slate that lay on the lawn all month
grew slowly ingrown, half-hidden in weed
— clover, buttercup, plaintain, the long
grass fringing it evenly.

Why does this draw the reader in? I think it’s the precision of detail combined with the idea of something hidden. Besides, Fitzgerald is a natural storyteller. All storytellers know if you can get your listeners in, you can hold them. Or at least you have that opportunity.

The best poems in this pamphlet (and there are a good number) sustain their electric charge from beginning to end. They know when to withhold and how to give.

Here’s the opening of ‘Made Strange’:

The song his flung stick sings
as it skims across the ice
is lunar, sonar, radio-magnetic

The trickled pacing of that opening string of monosyllables (try reading it aloud) echoes the action. The stick-thrower is observed by the narrator from above. I think the stick thrower is blind (‘He reads // the sound [ ... ] / much better than I’), though the reader doesn’t realise that at first. It takes time to realise that ‘the references’ are data conveyed by the sound of the sticks on the ice. Finally there’s an ending to match any beginning as the stick-thrower recognises each sound as                    

[ ... ] a new declaration that is

beyond re-expression, that is its
own unique complete private
and unforgettable revelation.

Helena Nelson