Alchemy: Reviewed

Defined as a book that “shifts through memory, family and nature”, Perry’s first collection is a melting pot of different narratives, both real and imagined, shot through with a poet’s unflinching eye for detail.

Death stalks many of the poems, from the sinister ‘Swimming’ where “you/ waded neck high into the lough water.” to the haunting ‘Psychopomp’. Perry’s focus on the detail swings from the light and whimsical in ‘The Jesus Woman’ :“When she smiled, birds flitted like glitter among the trees” to the gothic in ‘The Incorruptible’ : “But sins/ are driven into the soul like nails’ into wood”  It’s this focus on detail that adds so much depth and richness to the poems – and gives them a power redolent of the likes of Heaney. The ending of ‘The Incorruptible’ is very similar to the ending of ‘Mid-Term Break’, both devastating in the detail of their final lines “She was buried in her Communion dress.”

Although death is a constant, Perry approaches it in different ways. In poems like ‘Unburden’, it’s the voice of the murdered woman who speaks. It’s this way of looking at things from a completely surprising perspective that adds so much flavour to the collection. A number of poems feel like speech from beyond the grave, such as ‘Intensive Care’, ‘Unburden’ and the haunting ‘Róisín Raharuhi’ which weaves a mystical tenor through many of the pieces.

However, despite the death that hangs in poems like ‘St Rumbold’s Well’, an incredibly moving lament for the babies of Tuam, there are also slivers of hope in these poems. The poem ‘Bird Tarot’ glistens with it in phrases as gloriously detailed as:

“they are reminders

to live life like the infant riding the white horse

galloping towards the future

the path illuminated by sunflowers.”

In a number of poems, Perry examines the meaning of life and our role in the universe, such as in ‘Misfirings’ where we’re reminded that “we are not the anchors of our/own thoughts” – a phrase that encapsulates the collection: the alchemy of drawing together different, discrete ideas and images and allowing them to bubble together. By mixing the detail of the everyday with the abstract of the metaphysical, the philosophical musings are given tangibility as the detail anchors us – much like in ‘Small Comforts’ where Perry finishes by advising:

“I know I am doing what is needed: I am stopping to listen

to the world, seeing all this startling abundance that never sleeps.”

There is much to stop and listen to in this debut collection.

Published by nicolaheaney

I'm a poet based in Bristol via Derry, St Andrews and Madrid. When I'm not writing or performing my own poetry, I'm reading or trotting about with my camera. There is sometimes drink taken.

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Wood Bee Poet

Poems, thoughts...etc.

The Pledge

Fired! Irish Women Poets and the Canon

Nicola Heaney

Writer & Poet


'She would say to discover / the true depth of a well, / drop a stone, / start counting.' - Andrew Greig

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