‘I have nobody but myself to blame
for being in packed snugs in the small hours
where snuff and spirits were doing the rounds,
in a burned church where we were spirits ourselves,
in that school opened specially on a Sunday
where we were allowed to be children briefly,
at that stone on the side of a thoroughfare
that bears the last names of half the town,
in the shops that survive only in memory,
for eavesdropping on an Act of Contrition,
for being a bona fide on licensed premises
sheltering from hurricanes and snow and droughts.
For every moment of that weather I give thanks.
I would go out into it all again.’
. . . Tom French’s latest collection, The Sea Field (Gallery), contains a poem, Root and Branch, with an epigraph from The Antient and Present State of the County of Kerry (1756). As with McKenna’s debut, The Sea Field is deeply rooted, and attendant to histories of both place and language. Opening with a choppy poem responding to Storm Ophelia, the book moves into much gentler territory, and shows French to be a poet of much poise and downplayed sophistication. The poems in the sequence The Wildflowers of Offaly have a distinct feel of Michael Longley, but French is never simply aping the style of another writer. French has a metrical elegance and a subtle attention to rhymes and etymologies that makes these poems sing. The poem for Devil’s Bit Scabious, for example:
The leaf rosettes are warmer
where caterpillars overwinter.
As with many of Longley’s poems, French’s wildflower poems seem simple enough, even throwaway. But there’s a gentle metre, a lilting variation, a contrast between the rhymes, and a resonant imagism that carries the poem right off the page. — Sean Hewitt, The Irish Times
Some of the finest poems in The Sea Field are about communities and those individuals who, by chance or choice, have become separated from them. — Paul Batchelor, Poetry Ireland Review