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a season of small insanities

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Some first collections were launched a while ago in Dublin. I don’t believe any should have been published; the poems were exercises, they were immature, the poets needed stewing for a decade to develop their own flavour. Fortunately, Maighread Medbh’s new collection, “When the Air Inhales You”, saved that evening.

In Cambridge, though, it seems first collections are properly seasoned. I recently attended the launch of Andrea Porter’s “A Season of Small Insanities”, published by Salt, ISBN 978 1 84471 509 1.

Porter’s poetry is well constructed, polished, mainstream, and considered. The collection reflects many themes, but behind most poems lies a deep empathy, richly expressed, a dangerous sea on a sweet day.

The collection’s first two thirds is a string quartet in a drawing room. It’s domestic, feminine, elegant, loving, with a underlying theme of cleanliness which makes me suspect I’ll never be invited to the Porter household. But don’t presume I’m saying Porter hides from the awful, not at all, it’s just that I have the feeling that somewhere in the origins of many of these poems is a discussion around a kitchen table. Heike with her Dictionaries is a translator at a Bosnian war crimes investigation, trying to be dispassionate, but:

   They bought six soldiers here. They dragged six boys here.
   They executed them here. They shot them here.
   Gesture left to speak.
   They buried them here. They hid them here.

I like the way the colouring is not overdone.

There are a number of lovely little fantasies inspired by great artists and poets. For example, in Head, the protagonist has somehow snarfled Goya’s skull:

   I put the head on a red cushion. I cook paella
   with organic rice I have discovered in Asda.
   Sitting opposite, I offer him a Chilean wine.
   He declines; he would prefer Rioja.

In the final part of the collection, Porter puts down her feather duster and picks up her knuckle duster. From Snow Night:

   You are talking about hot tea when he dies,
   hear him stop breathing, become silenced.
   So quiet this snow on early hour streets.

From No Returns, which I wish I could quote in full:

   You stand in line in an anywhere Mothercare
   to return nappies still in their cellophane.

   No you’ve lost the receipts.
   Yes it was a cash transaction
   Yes, less than six weeks ago
   No, in-store credit isn’t any use to me.

   You feel your T-shirt becoming sodden,
   catch the eye of the horrified Saturday girl
   who will remind the imagine on the 37 bus
   and replay it as a form of contraception.

The collection is not perfect. Nothing makes the mountains want to lift up their skirts and dance. It’s unadventurous. All the same, it’s a fine first collection, the quality of first collection I like to encounter. I look forward to more.