Profit and Loss, By Leontia Flynn
The sum of all her tears
Sunday 28 August 2011
In her third collection, the Northern Irish poet Leontia Flynn reckons up life's failures and small triumphs, its profits and losses, first of all in a section devoted to the rooms of her past.
The subtitle, "A Gothic", gestures to a tendency to register the menace underlying the domestic, where even a Creda cooker is "spooky white" and its "pull-down door...seems to open on a greasy tomb".
One poem begins: "I once lived in the house of an infamous death." Try as she might to detect a "macabre frisson" from the murder scene, the poet finds that "the past remains dust". But there are real tragedies to go with the vicarious ones: a birth-damaged uncle; and her mother's sister, killed as a child in an accident. "Colette" ends, vividly: "We tuck your little shoes, now yellow with age,/ like a breech birth in the soil of granny's grave."
Woven throughout is a persistent thread of humour. Part Two is taken up by a single, long, rollicking poem, "Letter to Friends", which muses on Ireland's recent financial disasters and their effects. It begins, engagingly enough: "It's summer. So of course torrential rain/ has fallen now for days." In retrospective mood, the poet sifts though junk: "A 90-minute tape/ filled with sad songs; a battered filofax/ and some notes for countries long since using Euro." As that "sad songs" indicates, here is a poet forever oscillating between the misery and joy of life, with an engaged, watchful sensibility.
The last section seems the most arbitrary, beginning with "Five Obvious Catullus Versions" and winding up with poems about motherhood and her father's Alzheimer's. The final poem concludes with "those figures up there, smiling, in full view". Bathetic maybe, but it shows that profits – just – outweigh the losses.
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