A Shed for Wood: Daniel Thomas Moran, Salmon
I pondered the significance of the title of this collection. A wood shed can be storage for fuel (memories?). It is also a form of shelter. This poet was born in New York but has Irish forbears. The wood shed can become perhaps a poignant symbol of a rural Irish ancestry.
The influence of this ancestry can be felt in this collection – those mysterious peoples whose faces are not quite seen, or seen only in grainy old photographs – as well as the mythology of Celtic races: “I’ve been down to Ballymeeny / To speak with the wind / and the dead.” (‘Farnan’s Well’)
The theme of the folklore of backstory is continued throughout: “Once a roof of crisp thatch / angled to banish / the wind and pelts of rain” (‘Once Home’). But there are other times and other worlds to live in, other memories to deal with. We are whisked from ‘The Last Supper of Judas Iscariot’ to the impossibility of ordering anything as simple as a cup of coffee in the modern world (‘A Small Request’), as well as a somewhat hilarious account of how the poet overcame his guilt at eating octopus.
“The woods are fast asleep in the / fluorescent blush of a burnished moon” (‘Opening the Box of Sax Bledshine’). These lines are reminiscent to me of the imagery of that consummate poet Derek Mahon.
The collection reveals traces of a poet who has known his share of suffering, but who doesn’t feel the need to push it down the reader’s throat. There are observations of the possibilities/meanings of spirituality, sometimes made directly as in ‘Christmas Eve at the Waldorf-Astoria’, but more often indirectly through a compassionate examination of individual lives, and individual deaths.
Moran’s work is a refreshing change after the syntactical pyrotechnics which contemporary poetry sometimes offers. It is a relief to find work that seeks profundity in the everyday, without inversions, or obscurity. Unpretentious is the word I’m looking for, yet these poems are in no way simplistic. The rhyme, half-rhyme and metre are always present, but well controlled and slipping past the reader’s eye without impinging on the meaning: “Who but you / could produce / a live chicken, or / a lighted blowtorch / from his vest pocket?” (‘To Harpo’)
The process of writing itself comes under scrutiny, and every poet’s hope of “making the future unforgettable” when the past and the future become inextricably tangled.
There is a blue ribbon
I could use to separate
The what has been from
The what’s yet to be.
(‘The Book of Prophecy’)
In those few lines there are, perhaps, more connections – at least poetic if not geographical ones - to Dublin: “When you stop to consider / The days spent dreaming of a future / And then say, that was my life.” (‘JP Donleavy’s Dublin’).
One of my favourites is ‘On the Dying of Amy Winehouse’, recognising the death of any young person as a tragedy and distinguishing, as is humanely essential, the death of Amy the young woman from the death of Amy the celebrity. This poem could never be only about the young lady of the title, of course, for as another poet said, no man is an island: “Among us / There are those who will not make it” and
We watch them
as prey through a sight.
as the mob below,
Looking up at
the man on the ledge.
I caught the final day of the exhibition of l9th century French artist Honoré Daumier at the Royal Academy recently. Included in the collection was a striking work showing an impressionistically outlined mob screaming up at the man on the ledge who, in the painting, represents the figure of Jesus. None of the faces are clear, the message being that we are all the mob, and we are all the man on the ledge. This is one of my favourite poems in the collection. I would like to reproduce it in full but hey, I can’t. Sorry, you will have to buy the book.