Imagine the fragmented pattern that is created when a mirror is flung on a hard floor and shatters int a myriad of fragments. That was the visual metaphor that occurred to me when I read Attributes, a new collection of poems by Belfast-born Michael McAloran.
As Dom Gabrielli reminds is in his introduction to the collection, Michael McAloran is also a painter. It shows, not just in the intensely visual language, but even in the way the poems appear on the page; the painter’s skill in composition is evident.
The poems themselves are bleak, intense pieces the best of which are profoundly beautiful to read. Take Absent, for example:
I am the collapsed sky of death
Something else may fall
And pave the way
I am the deserts absent rhythm.
The beauty is there despite the overhelmingly dark emotions and themes; death is ever present (for example, in the short poems, Afar and Hence), decay (as in Hollow, for example), fear (Breathe), loneliness (Nothing) and physical pain (Cast). These are some – only some of the best works in this accomplished collection.
I say “accomplished” because there are so many disciplined, insightful and beautiful pieces. It is inevitable, though, that some do not work so well, at least for me; Void, for example, is one where the juxtapositions of violent language seem crude. He has a tendency to over-use some words that, used sparingly, would have more dramatic effect, such as “butcher”, “shard”, “blood” and (most egregiously) “piss”.
These are small quibbles, however, that are more than compensated for by the heights he reaches in his best poems. Obituary, in particular, packs a real punch;
I am the dread of the black sun
An obituary of tears.
To me the impact of this on the reader can be likened to that of the famous line from the Bhagavad Gita, when famously quoted by Robert Oppenheimer after the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico: Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.