Reviews

A lot of remembering

Review by Louise Waller

 

the elephant in the corner

Aoife Mannix
published by the tall-lighthouse
www.tall-lighthouse.co.uk
ISBN 1 904551 13 0

 

Aoife Mannix's first full collection 'the elephant in the corner', includes poems which have appeared in various publications and online journals including Dead Drunk Dublin, Foam:e, Rattapallax, and tall-lighthouse poetry review.   Some of the poems were previously published in her chapbook 'The trick of Foreign Words' (2002).

I had not been familiar with this poet before, so my initial approach was to read poems in a haphazard fashion, with hopes of encountering a super gem, a great poem, something to think about, a challenging idea or two, an entry point for me to develop interest in the work which I could aspect in my review.  There is much of the ordinary and everyday in the collection and this could be a good thing, in small and measured ways this could encourage depth and exploration.

So on page 43 at the beginning of one poem I find a starting point, a way to move within this collection, as Mannix's craft is kicking in, grabbing my interest with this opening.

 

We built igloos,

put a blanket over the top as a roof

and sat eating snow, trying to grasp

how it would be to melt like this,

('Winter in Ottawa')

 

As the poem progresses, the protagonist almost falls through the snow, her partner screams and she jumps to safety, she's carried back to someplace safe, she gets a chill and spends days in bed writing her name on the window, (now I'm thinking, we will get 'under' the surface of this poem) and it finishes;

 

like a language I didn't know,

like I was the very last Eskimo,

and this the coldest town on earth.

 

The potential for this poem, the possibility for this poem, to transcend and take me somewhere is lost with this throw away ending, this remembered experience now appears casual and clichéd, serving no purpose other than well-crafted reportage. There are too many poems in this collection where the poet will only glance at the event and tell it straight or as it happened.  Visiting American poet and academic Carol Frost, said during a Five Islands Press - Wollongong Poetry Workshop in 2000, 'that poetry should be clear and mysterious', and reading through the collection, many times I longed for the 'mysterious' to appear in order to enhance work which is capable of being so much more than, competent.

Mannix was born in Sweden of Irish parents, grew up in Dublin and New York, she also lives in London.  She writes and performs, has been broadcast on BBC Radio.  On her work for this collection, Maurice Riordan says, 'Lyrical and admirably free of clutter.', 'This is a poet with a fresh, clear voice.'

Mannix can approach poems in a well considered fashion, some achieving clarity and impact.  From the poem 'Ghost', the following;

 

It's still there, like smoke on an autumn afternoon

long after the leaves have been burned.

 

In this short meditation on loss and absence the poet is more confident, not filling the poem with too much narrative detail, as the poem continues and finishes beautifully with;

 

The sun in my eyes,

your shadow on my skin,

and somewhere on the edges

there is missing you.

 

Mannix's comfort zone would appear to be the 'spoken word' of slams, radio, and live audience.  In this context, her poetry offers meaning and narrative flow which audiences would respond to.  Not too much head scratching trying to work it out over the noise of the pub.  Sometimes she hits a groove which works on the page as easily as I imagine it would work with any kind of live audience;

 

The smell from the old cigarette factory

hangs around the school yard, warm and familiar.

Surely I can't be nostalgic about pollution?

('Giving up Smoking')

 

With so much competition for the very tiny number of people who attend poetry events and buy poetry books, and so many styles of poetries in contestation, it is important for the poet to decide what they want to express, and how and why they should express it.

In the following poem, the poet is visiting a place of deep family meaning and in spite of her resistance towards sentiment, the poem trips over itself with the poet's attempt to diminish the 'heartfelt' and instead ends very badly with the sassy, but ill-placed lines;

 

I know what I should've realized years ago,

or rather what I've always known

but conveniently forgot, I don't belong here,

never have and never will.

('Going to Galway')

 

Mannix's work is well crafted and has moments of clarity, interest and warmth. It can be amusing and engaging.  She might apply a more discerning and measured weight to the work, if she remembered less about the structured inspiration behind each poem, and investigated more of the poetic possibilities.