Summer reading from Poetry Space

Recommended books by Poetry Space readers:



This volume may be slim (32pp), but its twenty-three poems are rich with a tender appreciation of what it is to be human;  as Moira Andrew’s foreword notes, the work is “filled with the joy and sadness of a life well lived”. Indeed, THE TUGBOATMAN’S DAUGHTER resonates with life lived at full throttle.


In January 2015, Di wrote of a recent secondary cancer diagnosis, “Sod that. / Writing poetry can’t be rushed.” Her work clearly reflects this view, for it is carefully (but not over-) crafted. Her subtle use of under-statement draws the reader in as she charts key moods, key moments, with an unblinking lack of self-pity. For instance, readers are presented with bright windows on her childhood, including her love of books (“I …descend the mighty Jacob’s ladder…And across the road from its feet, / The Library / and all the books of / The Famous Five”). Poignant encounters with God are recorded in the poems “The Deal” and “Seeing the Light”: in one she tries to bargain with God over the illness of her sister, and in the other she finds out that all is not quite as it should be with the local Methodist preacher…who owes money to her grandfather!


One bright strand running throughout the book is her lifelong passion for Dermot, her Dubliner husband with his “voice rich, dark as Guinness”. Of their love, she writes, “I thought we’d be young forever.” Particularly moving, I found, too, were the poems “Firstborn” and “Lastborn”, in which Di celebrates the distinctive qualities of their children.


I was awed by the apparent simplicity of the narrative thread that ties the poems together, because the complexity of emotions and experiences that she depicts belies that simplicity altogether. In the poem “Hens”, Di describes the “swirls of comfort” the hens make for themselves in their hen-house. Reading this and all her poems, I felt warmed and comforted by her insights into the highs and lows of life, and I came away feeling nourished by this wonderful book.


Review by Lizzie Ballagher

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I’ve never met Sylvia Perry and don’t expect that I shall, but her book A Kindness, which I first read about a year ago, means much to me. This writer has a deft way of getting right to the marrow of her subject. Her approach, however, is nothing like as surgical as that description makes it sound; in fact, the book’s title offers a fair window into her particular gift: that of compassion for the human condition.

She writes with equal warmth and sympathy of Nellie, Alzheimer’s patient in the casualty department of a hospital—

When can I go home? / I’m dying to go home, she says.”

—and of a friendly plum seller in a Mallorcan market:

Hasta Domingo, he says / and finds my eyes.”

She also captures those dark times that many adults know of terrible sleeplessness caused by emotional distress:

“Dead of night, unbidden / a swarm of black bees /

crawls into my mind.”

Unflinchingly, too, she charts the mixed motivations and areas of grey morality in all of us:

You check your morals at the door in this game.”

In a poetic masterstroke, the poem “And Now”, Perry manages to sum up the experience that is not unique to her but surely familiar to almost every writer: that of weighing life in the balance with art as a means of trying to make sense of that which is at times apparently nonsensical:

“And now I know, / what cannot be endured /

Can be written about.”

Perhaps my comments here portray Sylvia Perry unfairly as a poet of the bleaker landscapes of life, but please don’t turn away with that wrong interpretation! Her book rewards its readers with rich insights and moments of acute recognition. The qualities that shine through her work are honesty as well as linguistic skill, compassion as well as keen observation. Rare combinations, these. I am glad to have some of her work on my bookshelf.


Review by Lizzie Ballagher, 2015


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Have you enjoyed a particular collection or anthology from Poetry Space and would like to recommend it to others to read during the summer?

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