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CULTURE Review of new poetry collection

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‘Of Birds and Bones’ is the second poetry collective from Louisburgh based Geraldine Mitchell.
‘Of Birds and Bones’ is the second poetry collective from Louisburgh based Geraldine Mitchell.?Pic: Paul Mealey

Louisburgh land and seascapes provide canvas for poet’s ‘Of Birds and Bones’

Áine Ryan

“My bones are threaded/ with the snicker of gulls,/ feathers of the old familiar,/ lost conversations ghosts./ I read about it long ago,/ how bones record and store/ as tree rings do – the years/ of drought, the storms.”
The opening lines of the title poem of Geraldine Mitchell’s second collection, ‘Of Birds and Bones’, evoke a fragility but accepting sense of self and of place. Even if the power of the ocean, as a muse is more subtle than in her first collection, ‘A World Without Maps’, it is again an intrinsic part of the canvas – inhabited also by gnarled trees and screeching birds, a sometimes silent landscape forced to accept unwelcome intruders.  
But, as is characteristic, of the poet, this canvas – rooted perhaps in the strong sense of place she feels for her ocean side home in Devlin, near Louisburgh – is just a launching pad for her reflections on human frailty beyond these shores. ‘Of Birds and Bones’ traverses many sea highways to paint word pictures about exotic worlds where humans of varying hues partake in the repetitive drama of daily life.
One imagines the poet in ‘The Symmetry of Domes’ she sits ‘cross-legged/ in the deep-piled stillness/ of an empty mosque/…each sphere, find comfort/ in the wide-mouthed cups,/ their ancient gloss’.
 ‘Pax’ brings us to: “A clutch of huts braced for dawn. Shadows sift/ behind closed lids; sleep-staggered parents./ grandparents sick of someone else’s war./Another day./ Any minute now the skim of skyfire, roar/ and smoke. Children struggle out of dreams,/ out of the stream of dilute blood, cleft flesh.”
Mitchell’s poetic lightness of touch – every line, stanza, is pared back to the bone – adds visceral power to a voice whose apparent dispassion is misleading but all the more potent in its impact.
This is expertly effected in ‘Warning Shots’, where she writes: “When you live on the edge/ of an ocean, you cannot pretend/ you did not see it coming./ The leaves are still, birds/ chatter, the sea is a sheet/ of steel. But out west/ where last night the sun/ left a sky illumined/ like stained glass/ dirt heaps up,/ someone else/s dustpan/ emptied on your doorstep/ and a magpie/ rattling gunfire/ at first light.”
This collection has its levity of mood also, as in Évasion and Waltz which are both reflections on past experiences, all the more exciting with the passing of time. “We set out at cross purposes,/ his sensible sparring with my sensitive; his proposal of a promenade when I wanted/ a lonely country walk.” Or in ‘Waltz’: “Crystal jugs and goblets in glass cases/ jostle softly as couples laugh their feet/ through foxtrot, tango … waltz.”
Geraldine Mitchell carries her cosmopolitan sensitivity lightly in this collection rooted along the wild west coastline of Mayo.

MORE ‘Of Birds and Bones’, by Geraldine Mitchell is published by Arlen House and on sale in all local bookshops.