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Circling Out

by: Martin Galvin
Finishing Line Press, © 2007
Box 1626, Georgetown, KY, 40324
Paper, $12.00

A Review by Mary F. Morris


In the beautifully wrought book, Circling Out, we find Martin Galvin’s poems immediately steeped in his Irish Catholic heritage. One is reminded of that country and its legacy as in the work of Seamus Heaney or Eavan Boland. We enter a strong sense of place, yet Galvin holds his own in originality, simile, metaphor, language, and idea. Still, it is a comfort and a blessing (as the Irish might say) to hear a voice from the rich landscape of a country with such strong and ancient tradition of poetry, this Celtic land of Atlantic Europe.

In Martin’s premiere poem, we have “First Catechism,” an apt entry into this volume.

First Catechism

So now you’re here and the world
is a wobble better than it was before
and promises a deeper travel
into space than we can guess.

Such rare turns move us
toward a waking star, a dot
as luminous in the night sky
as an island’s winding beacon.

Again, religion surfaces in “Tackling Time:”  “As a penance. / For the sacrilege. For being boys in a time / of war. And the bloody Jesus above the mantle / judged every play.”

You see what I mean? Despite honest images in the difficulty of a strict religious upbringing, the spirit predominates.

Martin does not stop in ideology, but moves on toward other worldly themes, spinning into the gorgeous, the exquisite, and rhythmic, as in the title “Gazeteer: A Map of the Known World.”

The way to what you want is through the door.
Follow the turning moon to where it lies.
I cannot tell you less or lead you more.

Remember what you knew when you were four
And all the locks were set against your size.
The way to what you want is through that door.

I am taken by this, reminiscent as a poem of Yeats.

Then we have, “Geography Lesson,” where themes masterfully spin together, in gracious juxtaposition: “It must have been this way in County Cork / for the Irish girls mastering the American, / that wondrous sound that swallowed up their uncles.”

Deeply impressive are such simile and metaphor in the sensibility of the natural world, as in “Pennsylvania, a place stuck like a fist into a mountain of coal. / As if she were a part of the creation myth / …”  We see this again with “Their joy, leaving lip prints all over the house. / She has gathered them all into her apron. / Shaken them out like seeds sprinkling / The country around. The fields of her flower / …” or “That stolid man, as solid as a farm, real as a clenched pipe, / I’ve heard mutter his benediction to my stranger self.”  What earthiness!

In the poem “Universal Donor,” we are captivated by “What I’m wondering, how it’s going to feel / To have my heart inside somebody’s chest, / Thrumming out my rhythms when I’m dead / Like some jazzman on Bourbon Street.” What witness! 

I close this review with a humbling, yet ecstatic poem, this one centered around aging. This is how a poet reveals the personal, yet engages the reader with the common knowledge of difficulty in a family’s frank awareness of a parent moving toward the door of death, or should I say eternity, for in an email I received from Martin, he writes,  “And, as the Irish end a toast, said rapidly, “May we live forever.” 

May Martin’s book live on as well.

Water and Words

with thanks to Emily Dickinson

The only thing my mother feared of death
was the pain she wasn’t sure
a woman her age should have to take
who was too old in her stooping years
to be afraid of God, needles, enemas,
or children’s nagging tongues.

We tried to mother her the way grown sons
think they have the right,  the supporting arm
around the folded wings,  the voice straight
out of Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda.
I’d never use that voice with my own kids,
they’d laugh me out of the neighborhood.

I know enough I’d never try such guddle
with my history classes of oldfaced high-
schoolers chewing on the lessons of the past
with certain smirks before they rested their fore-
heads on the kidneyed desks they’d about outgrown.
But with a mother I never understood would die

I used forgive me life the sickly touch of sons
when all she wanted was a cool glass of spring
water to wash away the fog in her throat, 
water that had been someplace holy, that
and a couple answers to a crossword puzzle,
just a couple hints so she could finish off
the Sunday Times  for once, for good and all,
and guess that it and all things else were right.


Mary F. Morris is the recipient of the 2007 Rita Dove Award and has published in numerous journals, including Quarterly West, Indiana Review, Nimrod, Red Rock Review, and Blue Mesa Review

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