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The Last Cold Day


The Last Cold Day won the 2023 Yeats Society Poetry Prize

Poems in Sara Berkeley’s fourth Gallery book, The Last Cold Day, are alert to climate threat, conjuring memories of fires sending up ‘their smoky prayers’ and ‘the ice [that] sings its long last song, / a requiem.’

The Last Cold Day charts a move across America, from California to New York’s Hudson Valley, from one climate to four seasons. It records the author’s life in the frontlines of the epidemic, the lessons of the dying and the life that goes on. In poems praised by Dermot Bolger for their ‘poise and sharply minted clarity’ Sara Berkeley records a return visit to her native Ireland as well as a new love and marriage.

but one day
the new roads look familiar,
you turn into your driveway
and you’re home.

Sara Berkeley’s The Last Cold Day (Gallery, €12.95) also centres on the climate crisis:

“Flight’s delayed five hours,storm in New York. Poor humans,
we are trying so hard,
but time is contracting, the future
keeps getting shorter…

I’m sorry about your baby’s sold out dreams.
Thirty years will drown the Keys…”

This is a book of almost apocalyptic journeys, alive with colour and movement across huge vistas, “October’s aflame, and my world too./ My world is on fire, snatches of panic/ as the red trucks siren by, the yellows,/ the orange haze and bursts of gold/ exploding out of the funeral pyre.”

In Covid Migration, Dublin-born Berkeley prepares to migrate again – a three-thousand-mile journey to the Hudson Valley, “Outside my door/ the garden is too proud to beg for rain./ Seared California, burning with desire,/ ash cloaked, feverish.” Berkeley’s painterly poems summon the vastness of America, “Basin and range./ Sage and Mormon tea./ Wyoming… billboards for fireworks, Jesus, and guns,/ and on the blue freeway signs… small towns/ all bound by the same chains:/ Subway, Arby’s…What kind of fear is at work here?” But despite the terror and panic of tearing herself away, “…one day/ the new roads look familiar,/ you turn into your driveway/ and you’re home” (Slow Fox Farm).

It’s Berkeley’s occupation that leaves her in no doubt about what the final journey is. “When I show up for death/ I take off my thousand pound weight/ so I go in light/ and I wait/ there by the bedside/ for death to look up” (Hospice Nurse). These central, monochrome poems with their clipped lines denoting her accompaniment of the dying, add tremendous weight to the drama and colour of the surrounding poems, “How is it/ to knock on strangers’ doors/ and enter where you are called for?/ It’s still warm/ in the rooms of the dying,/ but I am cooled from inside.”

— Martina Evans The Irish Times

The Last Cold Day - Sara Berkeley

Winner Yeats Society Poetry Prize 2023

Publication Date: 3 October 2022
Details: 72pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 91133 835 2
ISBN HBK: 978 1 91133 836 9

Cover: Photograph by Sara Berkeley

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