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British Limiteds, Part 1

Home, Adam O’Riordan (The Wordsworth Trust) £5

Home is the latest chapbook to be released in The Wordsworth Trust’s series of limited editions—400 copies printed—by their writers in residence. This book alone is proof that the Trust is doing something right, and that it is able to maintain its relevance within contemporary poetry in Britain and the world.

The collection is a mere eleven sonnets, each about an object or place named in its title. Andrew Forster, the Trust’s Literary Officer and a poet himself, describes the collection well in his afterword: “The ‘objects’ become charms, things salvaged from the safety of lives already lived to underwrite the places where Adam and those closest to him have been, and the strange homes they made there.”

From the first lines of the first poem, “Candle Moulds”:

Pig fat, goose fat, tallow, they sit like corpses
in their narrow cots, fingers in a drowned
girl’s glove, or barrels full of pistol shot.

to the later poem “A Hearth Fire”:

X     X     X     X     X     X     X…A slow
and speechless beat they all obeyed,
duly fed a glut of twigs and sticks and coal,
ate away the soft hours of their lives,
a dull ache in the back of their minds.

O’Riordan’s object poems begin with the day-to-day lives of the Wordsworths themselves, and move toward universalism without over-abstraction. The poems are all based on objects present in the Wordsworth Trust’s Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth wrote most of his most famous poems, and can be readily identified during a typical tour of the house.

His poems of place are more narrative, as in his poem “Silver Lake”—evidently named for Molossus’ home neighborhood—which begins in conversation:

‘This life isn’t all hookers-and-blow you know’
but even so one day a month you’d ease the car off
the boulevard, your u-turn describing a long slow arc
forgetting the pretence of work, the litter of scripts
on your passenger seat. Driving south
against rush hour, the commute, as a salmon
might make its way, by force of will, upstream,
and so you headed toward Tijuana.

continues with anecdote:

I remember you saying you could order from a menu.
How the oiled girls lined up to meet-n-greet you.

and ends, true to traditional sonnet form, with a concluding insight:

But I could not tell you which part of yourself you handed
over as your Buick crawled across the border.
Or which part of yourself you left forever
with Tanya, Tracy-Mae, Encarnacion or Estella.

O’Riordan manipulates tone with ease and grace, he’s deft to coin similes and metaphors without over-modifying his nouns or verbs, and he hasn’t forced his poems into the form as much as placed them gently. Other places to feature in his place sonnets—all named after the places they describe—include Dun Laoghaire, where the poem’s I-speaker works as an artists’ model, “turning like a hare on a spit,” Sandy Hook, Heidelberg, where young hitchhikers in Europe are solicited by a driver whose “prick [was] a pink tongue lapping from his suit pants,” and Teatranalya.

With Home O’Riordan is already on course to become the best sonneteer of his generation, deserving of greater recognition here in America and at home in the UK. His use of the form is organic; it clearly frees him instead of restricting the development of his thoughts. The Wordsworth Trust’s pocket-sized, black chapbook is well designed and well edited, a perfect home for Home, and I look forward to their release of the next chapbook in the series, by current poet in residence Emma Jones.


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  1. Source Succor: A Conversation with Adam O’Riordan | Molossus - June 20, 2011

    […] been hoping to interview O’Riordan for Molossus since covering his Wordsworth Trust pamphlet Home, which contained the poem ‘Silver Lake,’ about our home neighborhood. Fortunately […]

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