One of the downsides of lockdown for me has been a reduced appetite for reading for pleasure. An inability to concentrate for long. My way around this has been to read things I can dip in and out of, which means that besides reading a page or two of a novel at bedtime, I've been mostly reading poetry and short stories, and even then only things that manage to really snare my heart have lasted the course. This brings me to the book I want to tell you about today.
The Beating Heart, by Denise O' Hagan (Ginninderra Press)
I stayed in bed in the morning to finish reading the poems in The Beating Heart before my household dragged me into the loud day. There is a gentleness to the poetry in this collection that rewards the reader for a few moments of silence in which to savour them, such as in 'What was' - the simple ritual of coffee opening the memory’s shutters; the way O' Hagan evokes past times rich and fluidly and with the ease of pouring a cup, and now I am tied to this poem of hers – her memories – through the shared act of sipping coffee; such a wonderful way to bring readers into the heart of her poems, a heart that filled me with wonder and at times aching sadness, such as in ‘Recalling Sarah’, ‘A stain the shape of Italy’, and ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary’ that with its similarly deceptively simple nursery rhyme chime tapped into the child’s vulnerability in all of us, so that when I read “your too eager embrace of people/who used you and bruised you and left you alone?”, I felt urged to reach into the past to help then at loss because of course the past is the past and what’s in it can be no more retrieved than the suitcases left “fully intending to retrieve them”. The way O' Hagan's poems intersect like the Italian streets from her childhood, containing a lifetime’s worth of things to puzzle and discover, is a marvel to me. I loved, too, her exploration of the gaze in ‘Old man’s eyes’, and that, perhaps, is my favourite.
I highly recommend this collection.