Grasping and Dissolving

innocence and fidelitybook cover

Poetry review - Angela Gardner

To Wake to This

Enda Wyley
Dublin: Dedalus Press, 2009.
Paperback, 80 pages  
isbn 9781906614119

Enda Wyley’s fourth collection, To Wake to This is a celebration of fulfillment, of living and loving and all the joys and potential losses that that state can bring. It opens tenderly with a poem for her young daughter Freya. ‘Little Heart’ is a small, sweet hymn of thanks and its subject is recognizable to anyone who has ever put a toddler to bed. Wyley’s poems capture the freshness and the mystery of a world newly encountered, as if able to see through her child’s eye while also observing as an adult.  The poet may use an innocence of voice but it is an innocence rooted in fidelity.

Many of the poems are of singular moments of revelation. In ‘Bird’, dedicated to the poet’s mother, we step into a gallery and through the stillness of a charcoal drawing find a stillness of our own. The depiction of the bird framed in faded wood, shape-shifts into a real bird, which by turns allows the dark gallery to appear as a forest:

            …that this bird would fly
            forever in search of you,
his speckled heart beating
until there is nothing left
but you and the bird –
                        [‘Bird’ pp17-18]

There is a lovely concatenation of speckledness standing for fragility and the egg-shelled heart in the nest of the winged and flying body.

The title poem ‘To Wake to This’ is a paean to the wonder of the world and is followed immediately by a poem entitled ‘Lucky’ which is one of the most satisfying in the collection. In ‘Lucky’ we are shown that part of the beauty of the world that creates an inner life of us, the ‘contradictions/complex and beautiful’. Wyley gives us the image of a counter-tenor singing Monteverdi, the world inside and outside the head is no longer ‘theory’ of mind but an experience of now.  And it is the beauty of the experience, of the now, that is the thread that ties the collection of poems together.

            there us this bed,
            this morning
this window,
                        [‘This That Is’ pp19-21]

That the collection To Wake to This was written during a blissful early period of marriage, the discoveries of motherhood and of making of family, is obvious. The surprising key to the whole book however, is how often the idea of stillness and of quiet appears throughout the collection. Though just as this conceptual framework of contentment as a quiet place inside is growing in the reader, Wyley takes us back in time to a night, before marriage and children, to give us ‘Gold Wallpaper’ a poem less about architectural archeology and more about gleeful and sensual discovery. This is a poem that looks back knowingly to the relationship’s beginnings:

            Even now in the hush of our own home,
            in the dark of our middle years, when you turn
            from me in sleep, your mouth muttering dreams
            I cannot know, I reach for your skin -

            gold paper falling onto me from you.
                                    [‘Gold Wallpaper’ pp23-24]

Here back in the present the gold paper becomes a metaphor for shared breath, the formative experiences of love intense with newness persisting through nurture.

But closeness is not the whole story and Wyley uses those times apart from her husband and her daughter to reflect. In ‘View from a Bus’ Wyley sees her partner and child below ‘passing the high houses,/ the dirty railings,/ the difficult intersections’ as if from a vantage point their presence as individuals and so their separation is accentuated. The poem continues into a second section where the poet is able to visit her partner’s earlier and much younger self, a person she cannot reach but who has a powerful attraction

I jumped from the bus,
passed close to you
and felt your hand
brush mine so slightly-
feathers, silk, petals
against my skin.
                                    [‘View from a Bus’]

There is a difference in perception for someone who has gone away and the person left behind leaving Wyley to contemplate the more substantial presence of her partner on his ‘way home down the long jacaranda avenues’ while to them at home he is ‘a shadow in our heads’ [‘Twelve Days’]. This image is akin to the moment in a departure lounge when a precious piece of agate was dropped ‘rushing / between worlds’. The poet returns to this idea the altered visual point-of-view, ‘watching how it must be sometimes / when I am away from you and her.’ [‘Night Guard’] experiencing the miraculous process of something that was part of you becoming his- or herself.

All through the collection the heightened state of awareness new parents possess is made visible as is the contemplation of what it means to construct family and the way separation means some memories or experiences are inaccessible to one parent or the other. Elsewhere there are graceful touches, the phrase ‘Sunday light’ in the poem ‘White’, says so much so briefly, and Diary, a poem about her daughter’s explorations could be a love poem for the shared sensuality it depicts ‘I fill your mouth with me’ [Diary].

Although often domestic in detail ‘Under my pillow tonight, / your yellow and turquoise giraffe’ [Diary] Wyley’s poems use this as a strength, a foundation of experience that she can work from, so that in ‘Translating Brecht’, dedicated to her husband, the poet Peter Sirr, she describes the work of a translator who must ‘slip into his words / awkwardly, / a stranger adjusting / another’s thought,’ while not losing sight of the child in his arms ‘asking to be held, to be made sense of.’ For such closeness and familiarity with another’s thought a translator must find that they keep the translated (often dead) poet alive and making sense in the wider consciousness.

In what is an occasional foray away from the familial the poem ‘War’ although starting with the image of a sleeping child, opens to an awareness of the wider backdrop as she counts the blessings that others cannot take for granted. This book will strike a chord with many adults with young children. The poet’s strength is her focus on what matters most to her, it gives her writing both its innocence and fidelity.