The collection opens with a sequence of poems that explore the fragility of the mind. The second poem ‘Alzheimer’s Villanelle’ is an astonishing piece of work. The choice of form is fantastic – the echoes mimic the confusion of the mind and some of the visual descriptions are incredibly visceral, creating a very unsettling feel.
It’s clear from the opening ‘In the Beginning’ that many of these poems draw on and mock literary traditions and this comes to light in poems like ‘The Bruntes: An Elegy’. The tone in this poem (as in much of Flynn’s work) is very tongue-in-cheek “as cod as their umlaut”. But despite the light-heartedness of such images, the poems in this collection are also unsettling. Phrases such as “and out of the meat and fireworks of the mind” are unnerving in the way they boil humanity down to mere meat and flesh. This sequence was written in response to Flynn’s father’s Alzheimers and this is very evident as we’re confronted with the frailty – and vulnerability – of the mind.
The title poem is actually two poems with a short dividing poem. In the first half, death is everywhere as the radio speaks in the language of the Troubles. We see how easily the outside world can shatter dreams – but also carry us away as in the second part Flynn’s mother is transported from her everyday life by the music she listens to on the radio. It’s a reminder of how profoundly our world can be affected by the language of the outside world.
Which segues nicely into the second section of the collection: ‘…And the Outside World’. The first poems in this section are a step back into memories. The section opens with an elegiac lament to Heaney, which explores the nature of language and Flynn’s own poetry. The message is that although her idiom is different, her writing is no less valid. This poem ends with a declaration of hope and there’s an urgency to make the most of ourselves:
“The way we’re living will have been our life”
There’s a real sense of momentum in these poems – particularly in ‘Black Mould and Mildew: Obsessive-Compulsive Poem for Lawrence’ which whirls and lurches from one memory to the other so breathlessly we feel like the speaker when they state:
“my candle was so scorched at either end
I was half smoky air.”
It’s phrases like these and the wonderful
“The opposite of simply sitting about
in your head, like an egg in eggshell. That was ‘Out’’
that give the poems in this collection such depth. While the tone is playful in many parts (such as in the magnificent ‘Ode to Moy Park’) it’s often steeped in anger. The three ‘Catullus’ poems in particular are filled with rage: “what blots on humanity. May they rot in hell.” This anger is also palpable in the wonderful dialogues that close the collection. Here we see male anger turn on a coin. There’s exploration of motherhood and a light is focused on the hypocrisy of society and the dangers of online activism.
Towards the end of the collection is the fantastic ‘The Mast’, which calls back to the radio in the earlier poems. It’s an ode to the mundanity of city living with everyone beavering away. Each of them is suffering in their own way and it is steeped in the over-riding message of the collection: The World is cruel – but it’s also home, so we need to make the best of it.