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Pigeon Songs

Eoghan Walls
ISBN-13: 
9781781724903
Publication Date: 
Thursday, February 28, 2019
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'Eoghan Walls is both incredibly literal and metaphorical, often within the same lines, and serious and frivolous. This is a neatly packaged collection of formally structured poems that defy a neat or structured synopsis.' - Liam Nolan

Pigeon Songs is Derry-born Eoghan Walls’ second collection of poems from Seren after his much-praised debut, The Salt Harvest. From the first piece, ‘Angry Birds’ we have a sense of the poet’s themes and preoccupations: we have a richly metaphorical and densely allusive style, a pull towards formal metre and structures. There is also the occasional vigorous vulgarity, adding a touch of blue humour to the canvas, breaking up the formal rigour.

Family is a potent presence in poems inspired by parents, grandparents, partners, children. They often emit a sort of energy, a fierce gravitational pull of emotion around the burning heart of a poem ultimately about love, or the sorrow of losing a loved-one. There is frequently a strangeness that can be both comic, as in the ‘The Tooth Burier’, inspired by a child’s reaction to a lost tooth, and eerie as in ‘The Weight of Her’ where the child whispers that ‘she wishes to be dead’. Parenthood weighs large as alternately joyful, terrifying and essential to everyday existence. Also here is a richly imagined and mourned-for natural world as in ‘Ice Bear Dreams’; ‘The Sins of the Otter’; ‘The Beast of the Galapagos’; as well as animals in hybrid, mythological attitudes: ‘The Frog Prince’; ‘When All the Men Turned into Geese’ and the ever-present Pigeons who recur throughout the book as totems for various states of inquisition, rumination, urban living and means of temporary liberation from the mundane.

There is, as might be expected in an Irish poet, a flavour of lost religiosity as in ‘Sunday at the Reliquary’, echoing Heaney’s monks of Clonmacnoise in “Stepping back from the miraculous as we had known it.” Yet science provides its own unlikely, unearthly parables, like the scary, ‘Kepler 22B’ with a surface consisting of never-ending tusnamis. There are also riffs on ‘String Theory’, and ‘The Principals of Collision’. A socio-political awareness is never far away with poems about ‘Borders’ and particularly about a child’s drawing of refugees in ‘The Bright-Crayoned Universe’.

We are invited to stare, to mourn, to laugh, even to dance ‘The Rare Old Mountain Jig’ in this various, lively, compelling second book from the gifted Eoghan Walls.

REVIEWS

Review by Liam Nolan, Gwales

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

It is easy to judge poetry as one might judge a person. When I glance at a poem, with stanzas all equal and lines clearly metric, I make similar assumptions as when I look at a person all buttoned up and prim and proper; I instinctively see them as a little square and uptight. Formal metre and structure, by definition, don’t usually signify content that can flow free and wild. This is why Eoghan Walls’s Pigeon Songs is such a refreshing read. Its content, themes, tone and free word play are not what you might expect sitting within stanzas so formal. The juxtaposition of content and form give the reader a thrill. 

‘Angry Birds’ opens the book and sets the tone: contemporary, visceral and visual, and avian in theme. Death, life, and birds are neatly presented in eleven lines - three motifs that are repeated throughout Pigeon Songs, and all to great effect. Death as part of life, life in spite of death, and birds (pigeons especially) as an all-seeing consistent presence.

‘Swimming Lessons’ is a great example of these themes coming together. The untimely death of a swallow is described alongside its burial, performed in the garden for the sake of Walls’s daughter. This poetic description is given in the context of a single moment under water during a swimming lesson later that day. Death is there and real and understood, but life goes on and Walls’s daughter continues to move on and swim in spite of all that’s been learned.

The innocence of his daughter is a recurring theme and ‘The Weight of Her’ addresses her childlike approach to death again, as she described her casual plans for the afterlife from atop his shoulders. The mix of death and a child’s nonchalance in its face are refreshing. In ‘Kraken Rising’, Walls tells her that ‘life is massive’, but it’s a message she seems to be giving him throughout.

Walls clearly has a technical knowledge of poetry to go with his skill with words. One constant throughout this collection is his reverence for form and a technical structure. There are stanzas of equal length, with rhyme schemes of all sorts throughout; an academic poet could have a field day naming the forms here in their multitude. The real skill on show though is Walls not letting the form limit the poems or restrict. Structurally formal does not mean formal content, and there are real moments of lyrical crudity and vivid descriptions that wouldn’t have the impact they do were they not presented in such metred lines. There’s ‘vomit on the asphalt’ in ‘The Pigeon on the Rollercoaster’, and ‘Sweeney’s Song’ opens with the line ‘Last night I dreamt I had a second penis’ – both poems with strong visual presence on the page due to their form.

In the publisher’s blurb on the back cover, Pigeon Songs is described as rewarding re-reading; this is a very true statement. Eoghan Walls is both incredibly literal and metaphorical, often within the same lines, and serious and frivolous. This is a neatly packaged collection of formally structured poems that defy a neat or structured synopsis.

 

A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

Review on Goodreads

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Eoghan Walls, with his second collection, manages to capture images in motion, as though they were films. 

His stark use of language, and fantastic use of poetic form elevate this work above many contemporaries. Experimentation with style (such as with 'The Pigeon on the Egg') keep things both interesting, and chaotic. Yet, the internal voice of the pigeon is unwavering. With this collection, Eoghan has found the voice of our most populous neighbours; and he has made it sing.

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