The Salt Harvest

Eoghan Walls
Publication Date: 
Monday, October 10, 2011
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‘What separates The Salt Harvest from many first collections is a willingness to look for the poetic in pretty much anything, an almost aureate diction, and a darkly exuberant style’ – The Guardian

‘Walls wields a voice which strikes out on its own and, like all the best poetic voices, seems almost entirely to lack antecedents … here, “praise be”, is a voice bringing something really new’ – The Edinburgh Review


Shortlisted for the DLR Strong Award (in partnership with Shine) at Poetry Now / Mountains to Sea

The Salt Harvest is the debut collection from a startling new talent, Eoghan Walls. Dark and evocative, these poems involve rich, multi-layered descriptions of the natural world, and cast a sardonic and tender eye on the human condition. All the climates of his native Ireland inspire both the muscular imagery and the complex forms of work such as ‘Star of the Sea’, ‘Cockles’ and the title poem; each line has been ‘packed with ore’. Also apparent is an ambivalent, often deeply ironic attitude towards a culture once steeped in religion, as in ‘Myrrh’ and ‘Confessions to the Southwest’. Threads of humour run throughout, an imaginative playfulness evident in ‘Martin Healey’s War on God and Ireland’, ‘Frog’ and ‘Star Matter’.


Review by Ben Wilkinson

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Eoghan Walls’s piquant debut crams more than most into its 60-odd pages. Faithful to the gritty physicality of nature, what separates The Salt Harvest from many first collections is a willingness to look for the poetic in pretty much anything, an almost aureate diction, and a darkly exuberant style that at times borders on excess. The book moves from secular hymns to the sea’s unforgiving cycles – the poet praising “lumpfish snapping medusae through stalks in the biomass” – through sketches of home life’s little details (the yard “a damp offstage to the house” in “Thirteen Foot by Six”) to the sprawling otherness of airport terminals and visits from extraterrestrials. For the most part, it comes off. Favouring a loose, typically anapaestic meter shaped into couplets and tercets, Walls can serve up a plate of cockles and gesture towards its human cost just as he more openly handles human frailties: illness, environmental damage, a flood that finds “sandbags are useless”. “An Ethical Taxonomy of Cordyceps” is a bridge too far, but the vigour and reach of The Salt Harvest makes him a poet worth watching.

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Review from Warwick Review

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Eoghan Walls’s The Salt Harvest has a density that bears comparison with (Ahren) Warner’s work, and though the worlds it evokes are very different there is a similar assurance and richness in the writing. Variety, too – there are historical poems, some alluding to the history of Walls’s native Ireland; others framed in the long perspective of space, planets and moons; others that depict the natural world, most prominently birds and sea-creatures. Yet others evoke the author’s time as a teacher in Rwanda, and to good effect: ‘Vunigoma’s Funeral’ and ‘Heraclitus Bathes at Kivu’ are two of the most affecting poems in the book. Elsewhere Walls makes demands on the reader’s knowledge, as in ‘An Ethical Taxonomy of Cordyceps’ , or in a title (earthy in a different sense) taken from an inscription in a Pompeii brothel, ‘Felix, Bene Futuis’.And there is plentiful evidence of his relish for language including, in the excellent poem ‘Frog’, some interesting combinations – ‘like-my-colour’, ‘fling-of-flesh’ (Hopkins might have liked that), ‘groundhug mud’, ‘frogsoul’.

Common to many of the poems is a sense of bleakness or apocalypse that can be a little grueling. The recurrent images here are of sky, clouds, sea, stars, sand, wind, dust: and water, whether as rain, the sea or floodwater, permeates many of the poems. Particularly memorable are evocations of the seashore, as in ‘Star of the Sea’, which combines exact observation with an invocation to the Virgin. The frequency of references to an afterglow of Christianity is striking, and the suffering of Christ is also a haunting presence, as in the memorable ‘The Naming of the Rat’:

Red eyes of the white rats, black eyes of the brown
still locked behind the birth-swelling of lids, shall nuzzle
into His skin, lick blood trickling from His palm wounds;
sky gaze turned to the mewling runt. Even you,
the littlest of all. I call you Sailor’s Warning.

The other distinctive feature of The Salt Harvest is the really accomplished exploitation, in more than half the poems, of rhyme and various forms of pararhyme, refrain and repetition. Equally notable is Walls’s deft harnessing of traditional poetic forms, among them terza rima (something of a favourite), the ghazal and the villanelle. He is also alert to the possibilities of phrasing: ‘Osiris and the Prague Flood’, a poem of forty lines, is a single sentence strung out almost in the manner of Emily Dickinson with a series of dashes. At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Tourists at S.21’ dares to consider a notorious Khmer Rouge prison and its victims within the confines of six lines. These poems certainly merit re-reading and will reward the reader’s perseverance.

Lawrence Sail, Warwick Review March 2012

14/06/2012 - 09:46