“Flowers, All Sorts in Blossom, Figs, Berries and Fruits Forgotten” Oisín Breen – poetry review

Oisin Breen book coverA collection of three poetry sequences, “Isn’t the act of placing flowers on a tomb a gesture of bringing a little life back to the dead?”, “Dublin and the Loose Footwork of Deity” and “Her Cross Carried, Burnt”. The long titles suit Oisín Breen’s meandering gathering of thoughts style and approach. Motifs occur throughout, giving the poems a framework and a signal to the reader that the poems are not wandering off the topic they are addressing albeit indirectly. From part one of the first sequence,

“Yet I placate my father’s grave with calcite flowers.
Yet my grief is insufficient for I see it dissipate.
I am but missteps and false starts,
a captured stillness that records my ill intent.

Yet I lack the wherewithall to yield to the palpable thrum
It is extrinsic,
and dressed in surges of undifferentiated starlight,
I am asymptotic, and bifurcated in mnemonic flight,
and each point is plotted in baroque notation
as plush woven sounds wash in the rippling coarse-grain of transition.

.              Where phased space enacts a hallowing,
.                                in between the lines
.              of porous stalks and motion begetting blooms.”

Inanimate objects can’t be placated so there is projection here, the flowers are an offering that’s become an empty gesture. The son doesn’t feel as if he will live up to his father, yet it feels as if the son is projecting those expectations onto his father, imaging that if the father were alive, he would be disappointed even though there’s no evidence this would be the case. Comparing the achievements of a long life against a life that’s barely started (the son’s), is not comparing like with like and the younger life will be found wanting. Later in the sequence childhood is remembered, in part six,

“We were barefoot because we had been in the sea,
and the nearby road was made of gravel,
and it hurt to walk on,
and the sorrows of the sea-cliffs punctured the stillness.

I had because in the final analysis, I was young.
I had placed a last act of submission above one of love.

Now, in memory, each breath scorches those left behind footprints into a
sculpture of invigorating presence and an eerie allotment of dumb
abstinence.

Now it is breached only by the skulking din of chattering teeth; a charter
of trapped flies; and a grey decaying weave.

Now reverie is spun inverse as the needle snaps,

.             and I traverse the space of its hands
.             and this is what constitutes the giving of names.”

“We” is a group of children. Again the narrator’s emotion is projected onto inanimate objects, here cliffs. The narrative wanders off into introspection and lacks clarity, indicating the reader would be best to suspend belief and follow the sounds and rhythm of words.

Later still, from part eleven,

“Hope it is then, I’d been waiting for this: a tuning fork a cataclysm of
silence, and the tearful face of my mother? I have failed her.
I can not hear. I do not understand. I can not hear. I’m sound-blind and
bereft. I can not hear and it’s the horror she feels; she made me.

Here it is then, an apocrypha of angels and monsters and barrel bombs and
love and forgiveness and repentance and such relentlessness that leaves
me so rent I can only exhale.”

There are some grand statements here, at attempt to capture the sense of not understanding and losing communication with a mother.

The second sequence is set in Dublin but a section references Ashkan and his new home without explanation,

“I took it from the newspaper:

Ashkan’s new home is in part of Dachau, a former concentration camp where the Nazis murdered 41,500 people, some in agonising medical experiments. Under the Nazis, the complex of buildings where Ashkan lives was used as a school of racially motivated alternative medicine surrounded by a slave-labour plantation known as the ‘herb garden’. Asked if he feels uneasy about the site’s history, Askhan replies with a resigned smile: ‘I just wanted a roof over my head.’

There is no further exploration of Askhan’s response. Readers are left to figure out the truth behind the report. The narrator merely reports without comment.

Later it continues,

“We are all, in part, pulsars,
etching secondary moments,
in which we have something been,
with furious, tempestuous light,
into the fibre skin of space,
into those nested Russian dolls of me and other’s fantasy.

.             So then, it is that while you undress me,
.             you undress just another version of yourself.”

It’s an interesting, if underdeveloped, idea that undressing as part of an intimate act, an individual still chooses what gets revealed and can still hide parts of themselves.

The final sequence mentions, “It is only for her/ The piano plays,” later, “And the bassline kicks in.// We were poor” and it ends,

“And though the flowers, they have fallen.
Flowers, and fruits, all sorts of blossom,
Figs, berries and thorns forgotten.
And though the fruit it has long since rotten,
Tending her grave, it remains as pretty as ever.

Each year I sing this better.
Many lines, but one song.

I incant, I recant, I incant and inflame.”

Overall, “Flowers, All Sorts in Blossom, Figs, Berries and Fruits Forgotten” is a journey through adulthood, loss of parents and developing as a individual. Its narrator meanders through gathering observations and thoughts. At times he could be seeing Dublin through the lens of Eliot’s “The Wasteland”, at others, Joyce’s Dublin is recognisable. It’s ambitious, designed to have cerebral appeal and determinedly unfashionable. No stripped back contemporary style here, but the ornate vocabulary suits its style.

No publisher’s details or links were given.

Update: Publisher details are

Publisher: Hybrid Press
Website: https://www.hybriddreich.co.uk/
Available to pre-order in the UK now, with US orders shortly to come.


“The Significance of a Dress” is being launched in London from 2pm on Sunday 8 March at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, and in Leicester from 7pm on Wednesday 11 March at Central Library, Bishop Street, Leicester LE1 6AA (free entry).

Emma Lee the Significance of a Dress launch 7pm 11 March 2020 Leicester Central Library LE1 6AA

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