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Gerry Sweeney’s Mammy – Dónall Dempsey
Dempsey and Windle £7.99 (ISBN: 978-1-907435-47-8)
I defy anyone not to be moved to laughter and to tears by these poems that celebrate life, language, love and loss for the memories they bring.
The layout of the book is unusual and intriguing in its Landscape, A5 setting with poems, two to a page in Bold, inter-spersed with comments from the author. It is a pleasing book to hold as well as to read.
There are several themes – friendship, childhood, sorrow and nostalgia, but underpinning all of them is a celebration of imagination and the joy of words. Dónall Dempsey’s poems share lines from childhood hymns and nursery rhymes together with a wealth of magical language from Herbert, Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Dickens, Blake, Eliot and James Joyce. “I just soaked them up,” says Dempsey, “like the process of osmosis and there they stay to this very day.”
The poet’s own use of words is stunning. Potatoes “dance in their jackets”, The Stars Are Lonely, while later “tiny stars/ nail the night to the sky”. The blind Granny “handled each vowel/as if it were precious/held all the consonants/ as if she wouldn’t let them go” Talking with Granny. Poems in this collection delight in onomatopoeia, colloquialisms, dialect – everything to do with “Words words oh sweet words.” (So Priketh Hem Nature In Hir Corages).
There is a great deal of humour throughout as in, for example, Much Ado About Something where the boy makes Shakespearian playhouses from cereal boxes with nightlight candles as footlights. The resulting fire causes him to exit, pursued by “a clip on the ear”.
It is the poems about personal loss that I find most poignant. Beautifully written from different perspectives, the reader is touched by “the crying” that “has never stopped”, the ghosts in How Many Miles that are fetched “each night” by the poet and fed “on my pain/to keep you here again/only to have to/return you/when morning brings a new day”.
This is an outstanding, memorable collection.
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