The Parkinson’s Poems, Frank Ormsby
Mariscat Press, 2016 £6.00
Companions of fortune
I was going to write ‘misfortune’ in that title, but in this group of poems I don’t have a sense of a man fallen on evil times. This is just ... what happens. First Frank Ormsby had diabetes; now he has Parkinson’s. It is the wheel of fortune, which turns as it must, and the poet turns with it.
And in this enormously rational examination of what is going on, Frank Ormsby finds new companions. They are not what you’d call companionable, but they are accepted; part of the new landscape.
It’s a little like Pilgrim’s Progress, except that Symptoms, Side Effects and Hallucinations are factual, not symbolic characters. Parkinson’s is not a walk in the park, but the poet walks (alone) in the park, and encounters other key figures. They include the dog (‘Stupid Fucker’) and ‘the angriest man in Ireland’, not to mention ‘Joggers Against Oblivion’. It is often funny, yes, but not in a light or superficial sense. The ironies and characters are larger than life, like a mummer’s play: a blatant but complex journey through mortality.
The hallucinations in particular are fascinating: ‘They have the fearsome / patience of invalids. / Whatever it is they are waiting for, / they will wait forever’. (‘Hallucinations 3’). They are ‘visionary companions’ – objects of ‘delusion’, but more than just side effects of a drug. They have meaning – but what is it? The walls between worlds seem thinner: ‘Everyone else in the room, if indeed anybody / else was there, remained invisible’ (‘Hallucinations 2).
These are poems that can make you laugh out loud, but you can’t make light of them. The poet can joke about ‘parking zones disease’ but you can’t, though you, too, can be a companion. The journey is not frightening, but neither does it preclude a slough of despond, where ‘a loneliness beyond reason’ can begin ‘to take hold’ (‘Hallucinations 2’).
Above all, whatever is going on here is interesting, and it offers itself to the reader without apology, complaint or unnecessary adornment. How can a set of poems about the experience of Parkinson’s be so pleasurable to read – a delight, indeed? Well trust me, they can.