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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 2, June 2018
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Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Review of Maeve O‘Sullivan's Elsewhere

Maeve O‘Sullivan, Elsewhere, Alba Publishing, Uxbridge, U.K., 2017. RRP: €12 / UK £10 /US$15. Pb. 110pp. ISBN: 978-1-910185-77-3.

Elsewhere is Maeve O’Sullivan’s fourth collection in which she charts a worldwide journey in poetry, haiku and haibun. The book is divided into four sections: Home, East, West and Envoi – Back Home. In her Author’s Preface, O’Sullivan writes: "The book marks the completion of a life-changing world trip, about which I had been dreaming for many years.”

In the first section there are haibun about home, and a beautiful poem about her mother titled “Manicure." Throughout there is a sense of taking stock; of reviewing the past and contemplating the present together with the anxiety of closing the family home: “For a while, we reminisce and laugh, then we pass a guitar around and take turns singing for hours.” (“Closure," p.20). This first section contains many powerful haibun such as “Night Walking," “November 2015” (for the Paris O’Sullivans) and “I Dublin,” (p. 27) part of which reads:

I run into ghosts
of friends – dead and alive –
as I move south of Liffey Street
towards the river.

On Grafton Street, Christmas
Chandeliers are switched off.
I feel safe, unlike my sister
In the 11th arrondissement.

The Section "West" takes the poet to Europe. These poems with their characteristic short lines, syntax and enjambment are different in character to the previous section. In the poem “Inside Room 102" (p. 35), for example, she writes about an Art Deco cinema-hotel, where

a youngish Orson holds his second wife,
a most erotic black-and white embrace:
his right hand firmly grasps her pale left arm,
her head tilts slightly back and to the left,
the lips just barely parted with suspense.

The poem “Mother-to-be” (p. 38) is written in rhyming verse, the last couplet reading:

She stayed a maid from crib to tomb –
No floating seed attained her womb.

“Slow Camino” is a section of one- and three-line haiku spanning five pages. Here the poet is observing trees:

eucalyptus trees
in various stages of stripping –
their scent!

And “Southern California” also contains haiku:

Palm Sunday:
a hummingbird drinks his fill
of sugared water

In this body of the book we find pungent and wry poems about the places O’Sullivan visits, the people she meets, her friends and relationships. In many of the poems we experience the excitement of the poet and a feeling of slight dislocation which O’Sullivan captures in “Scenes from Peru & Ecuador” (for Uzma and i.m. of her friend Ghzata). The poem ends:

The old German lady at the Quito traffic lights
warns me in English about pick-pockets who connect.

She whose names mean one who intoxicates,
one-eyed woman of sorrows, yearns to re-connect.

The section "East" takes the reader from Australia to Japan in “A Slice of Autumn” (p. 73.), where she dwells on the sights and sounds of the country:

The journey from Kyoto to Nara is just under an hour by train. The burnt colours of the trees that we speed past are stunning, and I find myself thinking about Autumn Leaves, a French song from the forties with lyrics by the poet Jacques Prévert. But it is just the air, by Joseph Kosma, that I can’t help myself from humming.

For me, many of the outstanding poems in this collection – “Buddhas of Asia," “New Year at Rumtek Monastery," “Morning Practice” – are the ones that deal, in a highly evocative and honest way, with the excitement and delight of travel. “Morning Practice” (p. 85) is a beautiful rhyming poem about the simple joy of sweeping away leaves:

The leaves: I’m sweeping them but still they fall
Upon the steps and all along the path –
I wonder if I’ll reach the boundary wall.

The haibun “Endangered” (p. 91) takes place in Sri Lanka, where the group visits a national park:

The guide assigned our jeep is very enthusiastic and calls all the deer ‘Bambi’. There’s a lot of stopping and starting, a lot of false alarms. At one stage he points out a shuddering bush which may or may not have been shaken by a bear.

The section "Envoi – Back Home" begins with a number of haiku entitled “Settling”:

after this world trip
my aunt cautions me
crossing her road

and

the watch that’s travelled
and the one that hasn’t
both tell the same time

The final section, “Wild Atlantic Way,” also contains several haiku:

after a Corrib dip
ducklings snuggle into mother . . .
each other

and

moisture-laden fields
over Roscommon fields –
dry stone walls

This is a richly satisfying book: great ingredients, beautifully distilled, exceptionally well-matured. Enjoy. It tingles right through. It’s all pleasure.

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