Calder Wood Press, 2008   £4.50 -     

Downside Up is by Irish-born, now Scottish-based poet, Anne Connolly. The picture of the statue described in the title poem is also featured on the striking cover, and credited to the author. The complexities of life in the north of Ireland provide the main backdrop to poems which though not actively political, certainly reflect the political undertone of the situation.

‘The Price of Petrol (Ballymena, 1973)’, presumably set during the Ulster Loyalist Council strike of that year, provides a rueful glimpse of the failure of local acquaintances to bridge the sectarian divide, while ‘Chasm’ takes a direct but contemplative look at the problems caused by hundreds of years of religious divisions where “bile eats surly into common sense”.

Aside from the Northern Ireland setting for many of the poems, Connolly’s work is also rooted in nature—with trees and the beauty of the countryside as recurring themes. These elements combine in ‘Homeland’:

Planes slope sweetly down
towards Belfast International
compact but no country bumpkin.

Cows like well-fired toffee
neatly wrapped in juicy fields
graze apparently contented.

The language is stylish and sometimes playful but more everyday than consciously literary. The poet generally avoids strict form but makes an exception to this with the dance-like, rhyming ‘Song of the Gansey’:

Lines are baited, mussels shelled
Wool in the pinny loosely held
For every lull in work at home
They craft the patterned herringbone

Downside Up is a strong collection offering thoughtful and insightful snapshots of the poet’s homeland and the people who live and have lived there.

David Floyd