Review of Spearing Dreams by Amy Barry
By Matt Mooney
Having wooed her readers in this throbbing chapbook all the way peppered by love poems of riveting quality, containing some outstanding insights into a woman’s heart, Amy Barry saves the last poem ‘The Scent of Her’ to say out loud for us males how our loves might remain unrealised and unrequited by the passage of time and changing circumstances.
‘Had I been that young man, but
I am no longer he’.
She has this wonderful skill of internalising for us her feelings in her poems in the same way as light is refracted – simply what she feels we feel. I have to say here that brightness and lightness, with of course some inevitable troughs of grey, are the hallmarks of Spearing Dreams. She earns our empathy and understanding in poems full of wonder or deep emotion, love or loss, that fall from her pen – and she is not slow to shock us by her choice of words and images when she is affected strongly enough by something or someone like in her lovely poignant love poem with echoes of Leonard Cohen’s classic ‘There’s no way to say Goodbye’.
‘My eyes transfixed,
he was a butterfly on a bush –
A charming bastard,
This ability to give us reality shocks is also evident in ‘Mother’:
‘She had become nothing
and frail misfortune’.
This time there is pathos in her powerful follow up lines after the shock of the sight of her:
‘She took my hand,
placed it on her breast,
steadying herself on me,
‘Take good care of yourself’.
Her vivid description here gives me an image of a falling tree not quite making it to the ground due to a younger tree taking its weight.
One notices in this poem too the contrast between her mother with ‘her lips wrinkled like dried dates’ and the lady in ‘The Scent of Her’ with ‘her plump reddened lips’ or ‘We sparkle like the rings on our fingers’ in what is for me the leading poem on her love life ‘Fate’ set on The Cliffs of Moher.
There are a good few shifts in the location of her poems, some foreign and exotic like Nepal where she was enthralled by Mt. Everest which she expressed in her tribute ‘A Majestic Beauty’.
‘She touches the sky,
holds her crown above her head,
Clouds swirl and dance around her’.
One could say that this chapbook has a metaphysical vein running through it. I found much evidence of it as I understand it in her writing. There are definite shades in it of some of the love poems of Pablo Neruda who had it said of him that he had ‘the capacity to create a sentimental breviary of sensations’. ‘Unspoken’ with all its physical undertones is a good example of what I’m talking about:
‘A mystifying power fills, huge,
a male presence,
spine-tremors vibrate her nerves,
Here perhaps too we discover the intended meaning of the word ‘spearing’ in Spearing Dreams as ‘spearing’ signifies the male element entering into her life. The epitome of it is surely in the line ‘a male presence’.
If and when you read this book you can expect the unexpected and images that come at you at speed, in quick succession and in full colour especially in poems of action like ‘The Trampoline’ as she bounced up and down getting an overview of her immediate surroundings in the village for seconds when she reached the peak of her jump:
‘There in the distance
past the stone wall,
stood my neighbour’s white gable,
rising to the blue skyline, and
balconies covered with pots of bright flowers’.
She also pictures perfectly for us this intriguing sight from her vantage point in the air:
‘Paul’s horse galloping
in a cleared field
in slow motion’.
We assume Paul is the man involved in her final couplet:
‘I had an entire summer
to get to know him’
She is always only a heart beat away in her quest for love in these lovely poems, sometimes in slow motion like Paul’s horse, but even then there’s galloping going on towards her desired goals.
Here I’d like to refer to the poet’s use of language and imagery with specific references to where she makes us gasp with the pleasure of reading good poetry. Her use of the unusual colour ‘lapis’ in describing the sky in ‘Fate’ suggests a lot more than meets the eye as this colour is associated with a rare precious stone known for its healing and celestial qualities, not least in affairs of the heart.
‘And months later,
under a deep lapis sky,
the Atlantic Ocean beneath us,
I stood with my face in the mist,
inhaling the essence
from the Cliffs of Moher’.
A one line image that stands out for me is ‘handcuffed to his heart’ her last line in ‘A Towering Affection’ and in ‘The Rain on the Grand Canal’ she says:
‘The black water sparkles
in the moonlight, reeds sway
with orchestral harmony’.
There’s pain in her poems too. This comes through in poems like ‘Mother’ already mentioned and in ‘The Scent of my Father’. She handles these sensitive themes which run on the tracks of family love with great sensitivity and understanding. In her father’s case she calls his impending death ‘a cruel taunt’ and catches his sombre mood in the lines:
‘He fell silent for a long moment,
and gazed at the rain-threatened twilight –
We spoke no other word’.
Otherwise her own personal pain, sometimes sharp and insistent, is interwoven with the joys of romantic attachment. The agony goes with the ecstasy. In ‘Tomorrow maybe Love’ she discloses that:
‘Thoughts of him haunt,
murmur and whisper.
Uncertainty plagues –
Like a toothache’.
In ‘Stingless’ all her senses were on shut down:
‘I hid in a twisted battle –
A prisoner in my own body,
constricted little by little’.
Meanwhile the pain out there in the world in general crops up in a tribute to the murdered Jill Meagher in ‘Shadows on the Irish Sea’:
‘His wife, lying,
in some unmarked grave,
he wished he was invisible,
had evaporated into green-silk,
and misty air’.
In a great poem ‘Causatum’ on the fear and suffering of the people in the wake of the Japanese Disaster of 2011 she shows great feeling for their silent fear and respect for their religious reaction:
‘The Village elders met in silence,
smoke from joss sticks, veiled
their ancient faces,
now with colour
rocking back and forth
their lips moving’
In ‘A Boy’s life in Gaza’ she catches the horrors of war and a mother’s love attempting to make it easier on her young son:
‘The air strike lights up
the night sky
as bright as day’.
We would all love to cherish the war children of the world like this mother. Amy Barry’s chapbook should be equally cherished. She finds le mot juste to say what many more of us would like to say.
‘Mother puts my head in her lap
I feel her stroking my hair.
Pain rises in waves
crashing into me’.
To return to the theme of romantic love so palpitating within these pages probably one of the finest examples is in ‘The Goddesses of Uisneach’ one of them being Áine of the Light where she says:
‘The Goddess Áine flares
in our spirits,
into a dervish-like dance’.
In ‘The Fairytale of Dublin’ a cameo poem, she captures and holds our attention from start to finish, something which we expect to happen in all of her poems as we read on. She spills out all her joie de vivre when her cup is full with the love of her life in the lines:
‘Blood in my veins, eyes shine,
thrill at journey’s vision,
the wind intense,
ripples on cold skin,
yet my heart, my soul,
In a sensual culmination to ‘Embers’ she finishes on a humourous note.
‘And what would happen next –
silenced the roar of a passing train.
And frightened the cat’.
Finally we get a further hint of who she really is in her love for Kerouac of the post war beat generation in ‘There’s no way to say Goodbye’ in a clear reference to his famous novel On the Road:
‘We promised ourselves a trip –
On the road like Kerouac;’
Matt Mooney. Born in Kilchreest, Loughrea, Co. Galway in 1943, he has lived in Listowel since 1966.His first book of poetry ‘Droving’ was published in 2003 and this was followed in 2010 by ‘Falling Apples’. Earth to Earth (2015) and The Singing Woods (2017) were both published by Galway Academic Press. His poems have appeared in ‘Feasta’, ‘West 47’ , ‘First Cut’ ,The Applicant’, The Kerryman, Duilleoga, Striking a Chord, The Connaught Tribune,The Galway Review and read on Radio Kerry.