An independent small press poetry review

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This page last updated: 14th December 2007.

If ever one sought a concrete example of the poetry written into geography, the city of Derry is it. History is literally daubed onto its walls. A walking tour takes you past a mural to the fourteen young men murdered on Bloody Sunday, ringed with oak leaves that recall the city's name. Another, a dark rendering of a child in a gas mask, commemorates the 1969 Battle of Bogside. Curbs are painted red, white and blue to recall the Union Jack, or green, white and orange for the Tricolour. The Friendship monument depicts two figures reaching across the divide , not quite clasping hands.

Stephen Brown's pamphlet bears the image of one corner of the Derry City Walls. These recall the Siege of Derry, one of the defining moments of Irish history, and the resounding cry of No surrender! Walking them, it's hard to miss the British army surveillance tower with a bird's-eye view of the Catholic district below.

The poems inside are freshly squeezed straight from the landscape. We are taken down Bligh's Lane, once site of the British Army base, where 'they' might just as easily mean aliens nowadays. A flaneur, passing through Ferryquay Gate (where the siege of Derry began) is today unsure

	…whether he was extra-
	or intra-mural, whether
	he was in a free or unfree state…
In ENVOY, a visiting Spaniard
	…read our history in the mortar lines
	between the red bricks, in the blasted
	empty spaces, in unpronounceable signs.
What he learns from that history takes root like a handful of nettles, as though violence were a virus one could breathe in with the Derry air.

The influence of Paul Muldoon, master of the Northern aporia, is clear. The hares that

	…take their little lives in their hands,
	Back and forth across the Glenshane at dawn.
recall Muldoon's single-mindedly swerving hares, while Gallagher, those pesky bees pretending to be fat flies , and the hero of A TRAVELLER'S TALE following windrows and bell-wethers are all surely cousins of the trickster Gallogly. If the claustrophobic speaker in ALLOTMENTS is not as fantastic as Muldoon's misunderstood Merman, the poem is no less evocative of the narrowing of a human life for that. And the wonderful, terrible ROAD ACCIDENT is a beauty and a shock worthy of Muldoon, wandering into one's head uninvited days after reading the poem, like the peacock onto the road.

Full of dark pishoguery and fires-in-the head, this is a thoroughly excellent short collection. It is available from White Leaf Press for the disgracefully paltry sum of £3 and I suggest, with all the force that this serif-starved font can convey, that you buy, beg or borrow

reviewer: Ailbhe Darcy.