Poetry like this is a way of knowing, a search for wisdom which retains feeling in all its violence and yet contains it within the appropriate form. The poems in Minding Ruth have, therefore, an air of decorum, sometimes precarious, sometimes precious, savouring at all times of exactitude, and precision. The tone is always intimate towards both the reader and the poem’s subject. In harmony with this intimacy there is an observation of the physical world which is startling in its sensuous and yet miniscule detail. Even the instances of savagery — a dead child bearing the burns of stubbed cigarettes on its body are confronted without becoming melodramatic. The closeness of everything — atrocity, the dead, the world of flower and insect, of wife and child, of the past and the future — would be overpowering were it not always measured for us by the poet’s extraordinary linguistic control. The adjustments available for this control are varied. At times, it is the rhythmic control in a line; at times it is the syntactical control in a stanza, or of both throughout a whole poem. On other occasions, it is the control of figure, epithet, reference.
To speak of these things in such terms is to risk indicating Aidan Mathews’s mastery of technique, as though that were somehow independent of his feeling. But technique raised to this pitch is a moral and emotional achievement. It is rarely seen. This volume of poems is one of the scarce examples of the integrity of feeling and technique, the wholeness that poetry always seeks.
Aidan Mathews’s first book, Windfalls, contained poems which won The Patrick Kavanagh Award in 1976.