Francis O’Hare’s second collection, Somewhere Else (2011), saw the poet once again delving deep into the dreamlike iconography of modern culture.
Darker in tone that his debut Falling into an O (2007), the poems portray a psychic-scape of mirrors and things half-glimpsed, uncertainty and regret. Yet they are written with verve and a passionate belief that poetry should, like pop music, be memorable and immediate, an act of transformative communication.
Kerouac, Kafka, Yeats, Joyce, Padraic Fiacc, Morrissey, John Lennon and a host of others crowd O’Hare’s imagination here, acting not just as inspirations but a sometimes ironic chorus as the poet faces the failings and shortcomings of a twenty-first century life.
I was eight when we moved from Granite View,
grim estate of post-war council houses,
to a strange townland at the edge of Saval parish
called Benagh, from the Gaelic, ‘place of birches’.
And place of mystery, place of dark. I knew
this place had called me, like all the ancient Irish
heroes had been called, by some strange music;
a living stream, a pipe’s lament, the cry
of wild geese in the desolate winter sky,
a woman’s voice that echoed through the air
and made one man, though home already, homesick
for somewhere else, so that he followed her
to Tir na n-Og, across unreturnable seas,
leaving behind the rock-hard world of men
and disappearing into the twilit trees
to live in an utterly otherworldly vision
of time unflowing, wind not blowing,
the heart filled with heartbreaking harmonies
no human heart could hear for very long
without becoming cold to human hurt
and surrendering to that strange inhuman music.
I knew then, also, I’d one day make my art
out of this place of birches, a dark song
of the threshold between eternity and rock.
The oak outside my bedroom window,
when I was a child, taught me fear.
At night it would send its cold shadow
across my room, along the floor,
as if the dark were coming for me
with a famine-hunger for my soul.
Its fingers, twisted with age, bony,
groped blindly up the bedroom wall,
searching for me with awful patience,
until a wind would enter this world
of oak and bedroom and dark silence,
storming my dreams with grey, gnarled
armies of oak and birch and willow
marching through the black middle-earth
of midnight moaning a long, slow
dirge of the nightfall, hollow as death.