Who Seemed Alive & Altogether Real, Padraig Regan
The Emma Press, 2017 £6.50
Balancing excess with control
It’s fun when a poet’s having fun. Especially exuberant, controlled fun. And that’s exactly how this pamphlet strikes me. A virtuoso sharing his art, and his enjoyment of it.
The ‘Johann Zoffany’ sequence runs cheerfully across a landscape page and takes the 18th century painter into imaginary dialogue with artists such as David Hockney and Howard Hodgkin.
Padraig Regan’s love for his subject – art, the male form, language and syntax – is infectious. ‘Surely he could not let a beard so tatterdemalion go unpunished?’ (‘Johann Zoffany Paints Himself as David with the Head of Goliath’).
The title sequence – ‘Who Seemed Alive & Altogether Real’, ‘after Caravaggio’s pictures of Mario Minnit’ – consists of ten poems charting somewhat obsessively an (I assume) obsession. The endeavour manages to be serious and comical at the same time: ‘his mouth redder than appropriate’ (‘Boy with a Basket of Fruit’). And it comes as a release when the model is (I think) imagined to finally rebel. ‘What if’, starts ‘Bacchus’,
not just the wine in the glass but the whole carafe,
pulled the knot from his flimsy belt, tore
the leaves in the garland to confetti & threw,
one by one, each of the overripe fruits …
The satisfaction is increased for me thanks to the restraint of the poet’s quiet close:
The stains would be the same colour
as the bruises where the apples landed.
Balancing excess – desire, pleasure, exuberance – with control is what makes this collection compelling, I think, and this is encapsulated in the poem ‘Aubade’. It is three tercets long, each line allowed a landscape length, and a whole city is outside, ‘clanking in its chains’, as our narrator wakes: ‘A single pane of glass is the room’s flimsy membrane’.
Should I get out
of bed & look for the cafetière? Where are my glasses?
The last line ends ‘& the day blows open like an empty net.’ Which strikes me as the epitome of pleasure.