Rusty red cover with golden lettering for the title and white for the author nameCorona Connemara & Half a Crown, Jamie O’Halloran

Southword Editions, 2022    £6.00   

Going round in circles

Jamie O’Halloran writes about spending her pandemic in Connemara through a series of interlinked sonnets. There are two sequences in the pamphlet: first, ‘Corona Connemara’ is a heroic crown of fifteen sonnets; and ‘Half a Crown’ is a further sequence of six.

In ‘Corona Connemara’, the repetition of the last line of every sonnet as the first line of the next creates a circular pattern which seems to me perfect to convey the way that Covid came in waves.

‘Sonnet VII’ refers to the New Year and ends:

                   Fractured year of shrivelled funerals, virtual
You-name-it, school terms on-again, off-again, Zoom-
Weary. These seasons wear us into the next, threadbare.
We’ll arrive at the threshold stomping our stocking feet.

And ‘Sonnet VIII’ begins:

We’ll arrive at the threshold stomping our stocking feet
And refusing to cross. Why not stay here

I certainly remember that feeling of stasis — that perhaps it was better not to move on. But the year turns regardless, and I think this is beautifully captured in these sonnets. A yellow narcissus — symbol of Spring and re-birth — makes an appearance in eight of the fifteen sonnets.

This is from ‘Sonnet I’:

                                        All seems green:
Hedges and fields, even the leafless limbs
Of beech wear green lichen gloves.
Spears of crocus and narcissus poke through
Unfrozen soil.

Or this, in ‘Sonnet III’:

Suns of narcissus will nod, cradling the lives we lost.
A calendar’s been flipped through and the flowers’
Yellow cups are momentos of the season when this plague
Was truly novel.

Jamie O’Halloran keeps to the pattern of the crown but, beyond that, the poems themselves don’t seem to follow any strong traditional sonnet form, other than they all have fourteen lines. This combination works, for me: allowing the poet to use contemporary language and vocabulary, while holding the work within the tight-knit boundaries imposed by the repetitions and capital letters at the beginning of every line. This creates a strong, rather stiff, circular structure which very effectively, for me, mirrors the way those lockdowns felt.

Anne Bailey