Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car

As you probably know, April is National Poetry Month here in the United States, so I’m dedicating the majority of my reviews over the next few weeks to the work of poets who have shared their work with me over the past year or so. The list is somewhat long; I have about a dozen volumes of poetry in various shapes and sizes sitting on my desk among the novels and memoirs I’ve promised to review within one vague time frame or another — usually something like, “Sometime before August.” To keep things from getting too precarious, at least as far as the laws of physics are concerned, I’ve stacked the books according to size — smallest on top and biggest on bottom, a pyramid of truth and beauty, as it were, to borrow a couple of terms from Keats — and will be reviewing them in that order.

Tiny though it is, Nuala Ni Conchuir’s Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car is dense with sensual imagery. Indeed, the economy of language that Conchuir employs throughout this volume is reminiscent of Ezra Pound’s “In a Station at the Metro.” This parallel, moreover, does not appear to be accidental: in one of the longer pieces of this collection, “Flaneuse,” Conchuir includes a section titled “on the metro,” which, like Pound’s haiku-esque masterwork, presents the reader with the prospect of meeting strangers in underground public spaces.

Yet while Conchuir may be a student of Pound’s spare yet powerful language, she rejects the cold aloofness of the modern, particularly with respect to the women she depicts. Where Pound’s “Portrait d’une Femme,” for example, reduces its subject to the sum total of her memories and possessions, the women of Conchuir’s poetry are sensual and alive — thriving, in fact, within the medium of human imperfection and ambivalence. More specifically, where Pound’s “femme” is “pregnant with mandrakes,” the pregnant figures (and there are a few) of Conchuir’s poetry are filled with an endearing mixture of hope and worry. They pray to Saint Gerard, patron of motherhood. They dream of other people’s babies. They are acutely aware of the lives growing inside of them — and perhaps even more so of the dangers that lurk outside the womb.

Pregnancy and motherhood, however, are not the only themes of Conchuir’s latest collection. Throughout the volume, she also examines love, sex, aging, and infidelity as she continues the complex, moving exploration of the human soul that makes her previous collections such a joy to read.


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