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The Thing is


From a glimpse of his pregnant wife and the ensuing epiphany, ‘we are walking slowly out of our old lives’, an extended sequence at the heart of Peter Sirr’s collection, The Thing Is, conscribes the reality of new life and new joy, including an interlude in rural Ireland. ‘Here you are,’ he writes in ‘The Overgrown Path’, ‘disposed in light / and the company of trees / and here am I, applauding.’

The sureness of his poems’ footing interprets Dublin for a modern age. His preoccupation with language and the integrity of process endures and expands as he continues to translate past and recent experiences into coherent, convincing forms. The book’s coda, ‘Carmina’, is an energetic rendering of the sexual shenanigans and invective of Catullus’s originals. Amplified by broad perspectives and keen intelligence, The Thing Is is the most personal and engaging of Peter Sirr’s collections.

‘Sirr is also known as a poet of impersonality, one who in his own words avoids “poetry of the foregrounded self” and “detailed narratives of personal life”. Yet many poems in The Thing Is, though not quite confessional, adopt a personal, intimate approach and are undoubtedly among the most nakedly biographical pieces he has published to date. This new volume, then, not only plays to and consolidates Sirr’s strengths but also gestures toward new ground. It represents another milestone on a unique poetic journey.’ — Billy Ramsell, Southword

. . . The Catullan renderings and evocations are one of the joys of The Thing Is . . . The recklessness of some of Catullus’s poems seems a guarantee of the perfect tuning of others. Similarly, the versions of Catullus (and Brecht) in Sirr’s volume offset and add resonance to the more important poems grouped in the sequences ‘Shhh’ and ‘The Overgrown Path’. The ‘Shhh’ poems are poems of globalization, with titles such as The New Regime Inherits the Electrodes and For the Hanged Boys . These pieces help us to put names on some contemporary sources of confusion. An even finer achievement is the sequence entitled ‘The Overgrown Path’, concerning the poet’s expectant wife, childbirth, and the early childhood of their daughter.

. . . I look over and see, suddenly, how close you are,
what gravid means, how we are walking slowly out of
our old lives . . .

In the title poem:

The thing is this: you hold them to the light
and laugh, you bring them to me
one in each fist like the edges of a cross . . .

A little girl plays with crayons under the shadow of a cross: the reader is touched by a quattrocento gust. Then:

. . . the joy of it lifts you to your feet
where you sway with possibility, conducting your colours
and the thing is this, the thing is always this.

That such a celebration of children and creativity occurs just as our birth-rate begins to top the European statistics is one of the ways in which Sirr, MacNeice-like, captures our current reality. Speaking as a Dubliner, I can testify that reading this labour of love I came both to know Dublin better and to like her better.

— Philip McDonagh, The Irish Times

Winner 2011 Michael Hartnett Award

Year Published: 2009
Details: 80pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 473 2
ISBN HBK: 978 1 85235 474 9

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