Michael Tolkien

Foreign Correspondence  (Peterloo Poets)

Publ. in PROP magazine Autumn 2000


    Darragh appears to have a penchant for ruminating over paradoxes and conundrums or for squeezing out messages at all costs. And this can lead to matters being inflated to make patterns on the page. Arguments become syntactically jerky, elongated or both to fit exigencies of form, and rhyme is a 'tour de force' rather a means of emphasis. 'Holy Sonnet' is a notable exception, contrasting genuine and meretricious faiths with telling images and quips to which the form adds cogency at every stage.   

    A picaresque lifestyle celebrated in the blurb has fostered more diverse subject matter than I've so far implied; but what about an eye for detail ? Or does he suspect specifics turn into clutter ? Perhaps it's symptomatic that where there's an 'I' it's slightly bashful about its rôle. Whether the ostensible topic's, say, a Windmill-shaped pub,  Radio Telescope, Monadology, or  One-night Stand, bias towards abstraction and the abstruse, tends to colour them all grey. Take the latter poem's opening. Lines 1 and 2 end with "this" and "bower" followed by "time grudged to grant above this hour;/ tomorrow's distance mocked today's close kiss." This stilted pace and tone infects several potentially engaging poems about pioneering: baffled reporters in 'Foreign Correspondence', separatists who adhere to an old lifestyle in 'Here on this mountain top' and 'New Start'. Auden's early landscapes and peregrinations come to mind; but Darragh hovers awkwardly between the actual and the emblematic. I'm puzzled by pastoral desperadoes who talk of retreat into their homes: "by strange, forgotten passages, such ones/ our elders thought impossible, or blocked/the feared, expected, or the longed-for comes."

  Equally, overdoing tricks makes some promising comic verse feel 'lightweight'. An amusing comment on 'English as a foreign language' is swamped by a page or more of pidgin lingo. Ironically one poem entitled 'Larkin' patronises this dextrous 'light' verse technician as  stuffy and tight-chested.

    The more direct poems 'philosophise' more universally than those that advertise their ratiocination. In 'Lesson' we must deduce what's learnt: a child  carried out to hear a band rebukes the poet for breaking the rules, and shows him the full moon in a new light. ' Nightmare in Monte Carlo' touches on nonchalance, callousness and panic in a terse, understated narrative about a cruise ship tipped over by a seismic fluke. Such pieces make me wonder if this first collection required more stringent selection.




Simon Darragh