Séan Hewitt reviews Plainchant by Eamon Grennan in The Irish Times.
Like the unaccompanied singing of its title, the poems in Eamon Grennan’s Plainchant (Gallery, €11.95) reveal moments and encounters that create or reveal their own sanctity. Each is held together in an unusual form of prose poetry. The first line of each poem determines the length of all its subsequent lines, so the poems appear as blocks, justified to their own margins. This ingenious collaboration between shape and line creates a form in which Grennan can move skilfully between the understated and the sacred, and gives him room to experiment with a heightened register without ever appearing purple, or overly poetic. So, swans can be “sailing wide-winged and stately on the name-/less lake of painted blue on which their whiteness/glows heraldic”, and something about the prose form means the reader never recoils from the awe-struck pitch of the language.
The collection opens, memorably and breathlessly, with an encounter between the speaker and a hare. Given in one near-perfect sentence, Grennan earns his full stop like few others.
Knacky keen and swift was the flighty hare
That flitted almost up to me in Fogarty’s
near field where I tried to stand still as a
post so he might stop and stare at me with
his basalt-black burning eyes…
The collection’s blocks of texts are like small windows on to the world at once real and consistently shone through with a sanctifying light. Plainchant is almost a screen of icons, each offering a pathway through to some other world of meaning. The poet stands waiting, like the seals in Seals off White Strange, Renvyle, “patiently for something, anything –/anything in either world – to happen”.
This almost-tangible otherworld creates an elegiac tone for the collection; the poet as witness to a world that approaches and encounters him, but is still distinct and wholly itself. There are ghosts and remembrances, sudden manifestations, and images of gorgeous clarity.
A lark, for example, has “long silver ribbons of song the bird/braids as if binding lit air to earth”. Above all, this collection – one of the best Irish collections of the year – offers moments of magnificent solace. It is in the lines of the final poem, Hare at Dusk, that we see, perhaps, an image of ourselves as reader.
The hare leaps off into the dimming light,
where it can listen to its heart’s quick
insistent little drumming as it gather itself
into the blood-warm cell of itself: its form
and refuge till the big dark blows over.