The graph of this memorial collection, honouring the bicentenary of the resistance organisers Robert Emmet and Thomas Russell (both were executed in 1803), and what Dante calls their willingness to be unmade, is rooted in the consequent loss of Irish identity throughout the nineteenth century and concludes in meditations on the concentration camps of modern Europe. Images of mourning and tribute, addressing the erosion of language and recent ceasefires in the North, permeate the nervous system of the book. Above all, Had I a Thousand Lives weighs the morality of its heroes’ compulsion towards self-sacrifice in the cause of political advancement. Medbh McGuckian’s unique signature and coherent personal style inform these trail-blazing, visionary poems.
Every room has a soul if it can be prised
open, a little sky of its own beauty,
under the feudal right of introspecting houses.