‘The Elm Tree’ by Peter O’Neill

The Elm Tree by Peter O’Neill
64 pages
Lapwing Publications, 2014

The structure of Peter O’Neill’s The Elm Tree (Lapwing Publications, 2014) is quite interesting. The contents page is divided into five sections, each section is actually the name of a full poetry collection. Thus, the reader is confronted with shards of collections by O’Neill. Here we have a selected poetry by a writer who himself states that he has been writing for some years but this is only his second published book, the other being a chapbook produced in the U.S in 2013.
The Elm Tree comprises poems from The Dark Pool, The Muse is a Dominatrix, Fingal, Sweeney Amok-The Trees of Ephesus, and Dublin Gothic.
O’Neill is evidently a poet who is immersed in his themes, one wonders what provoked him to produce a selected work ? Up until last year, he, like so many other younger poets had been virtually ignored by the denizens of the ivory towers that have reduced Irish poetry to a type of rarity, and starved it of its oxygen: poets who continue to write and immerse themselves in their work despite there being an uninterested and narrow field in which to accomplish that.
Dark Pool (Dubh-Linn), Fingal, and Dublin Gothic are collections with Dublin at their heart. Of these, Dublin Gothic shows great interest and the work of a developed poet who is comfortable with his work. It is a more intimate group of works, including Transhumance:
On the way from Siliqua to Porta Palma,
Out on the flat roads beneath the ruin
Of Aquafredda, crumbling upon
The crown of the mound; this pyramid
Of hill straight out of a storybook,
Though historical, infused as it is
With cannibalism – Canto 33
Of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.
Back on the murmuring rocks, running to the
Pool of Rio Murtas, drowned there in the Register’s
Pupil, a sacred halting place.
It is written on the wind, this juxtaposed
Vision, passing moments iconic;
Your own deft temple- a Dublin Gothic.
Transhumance by Peter O’Neill is dedicated to Alice Ruggiu.
O’Neill’s interests included translation and the classics. He is ensconced in a translation of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. He is a poet of idea and image, who is unafraid to bring his interests into the centre of the work and allow the reader to derive what nourishment she can from working with the imagery. I find myself wondering if the idea of intellection and research is anathemic to people who reject/ignore such work. One assumes that it may put off an infantilised public used to the low-fat version of literature that comes in pretty bows and heels?
I recommend this collection to the reader who likes to get their teeth in and work a bit on the the poem as form, Ulmus Opaca
vegetative fibrous roots and boughs,
horrendum stridens delicately coiled
around each arrow-headed leaf.
this architectural wonder of the elm trees,
with the great lozenge passing overhead,
its cosmicity, encircling the globe, below
the unfolding palms of the branches
seemingly gracing the orb in playful embrace,
illuminating, at the same time, the lantern
phenomenon of the day tree, pre-figuring
the street lights, nature’s civic pride on full
display with the light trees. “look, no wires!”
she seems to say, we the so called guardians
in clear distress, seemingly oblivious.
Ulmus Opaca by Peter O’Neill is dedicated to Seamus Heaney.
Sweeney Amok-The Trees of Ephesus is for me the heart of this collection and I would suggest to Peter that he go about publishing the entire. Here, O’Neill lets himself breathe out a bit and indulge his interests and themes. The Elm Tree on the cover of this book is from Ephesus, it provides the sheltering arm under which all O’ Neill’s work plays out.
The fact that it is so difficult for a narrow and somewhat constipated establishment to bring poetry out to people using dynamic tools like blogs and internet shouldn’t really stop the poet from seeking independent and self-publishing as a matter of course. It’s that or the creche of introductions, anthology peripheries, or worse still chocolate-box poetry to advertise whatever food-stuff will sponsor poetry here in Ireland, a dry place for the arts.
from Autoritas
(The Muse descends at Ephesus)
She leaves deep imprints on the turf
Like fresh cow pats. Only the lowly poets
Go off printing her transformed dung in their
Odious pastorals, while bastards like I
Steal off with the real gold, after
Rifling through her pockets, while she
Conducts commerce.
Autoritas is by Peter O’ Neill

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