Fintan Murphy,
Slender Toward the Sky
(The Works, 2006)

Poetry does not appeal to everyone, yet we listen to songs every day -- and I suppose they are poems set to music. OK, some of them are far from poetic. But this book, Slender Toward the Sky by Fintan Murphy, could be the book to wean you from songs to poems.

At school you read long-winded poems about places you never heard of and "ould codgers" from other lands. Fintan brings Mayglass, Ballycogley, the Boker and "The Brothers" into the poetic realm, along with sprongs and snagging turnips.

"Sonnet for the Bossman" opens proceedings -- but you can start wherever you like. This poem will resonate with anyone who had a father who lived the simple life we, as know-it-all youngsters, often undervalued.

One of my favourites is a rather long offering called "Teresa's Bard." It is a marvelous comic poem that hits all the chords. It is an Irish tale of a poet called Will. The phrases and comments are wry but true to life. As Fintan says, the names Wagstaff (known in Wexford) and Shakespeare are rather similar in meaning, so you get the gist -- like a poem, say them aloud and you will get the idea.

"Chestnut Cottage" is a beautiful recreation of real life, as is "Ernie." The heartbreak of "Cot Death" is vividly captured and may prove difficult for some, while for others it may offer comfort. I can visualize a time now past when reading "Town & Country Tongues," while "The Green Plain" echoes many of my own thoughts on "progress" with lines like:

A bulldozer or two
and the green plain
is forever less green
and a lot plainer

Mixing the comic and the poignant in an expert fashion, Fintan has produced a book that can be read as pure poetry, a set of rhyming short stories or brief pieces of history and nostalgia. If you never read poetry, this is a great place to start. As he says himself, "read it out loud," get the feeling for the words and the rhythm, immerse yourself in the stream of emotion.

If you are a poetry buff, buy this. It is as good as or better than most you have read. You don't need to go to Stratford or other exotic places. Mayglass is real, Fintan Murphy is true and the poems are perfect. Dip into it at leisure, savour the sounds and, whether you laugh or cry -- at the appropriate poem, I hope -- you will feel all the better for the experience.

by Nicky Rossiter
3 June 2006