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.