Book Review: Whispering the Secrets By Susan Lindsay Doire Press 2011 ISBN 978-1-907682-04-9

Reviewed by Margaret Watchorn

The title of this book of poetry conveys both the substance and the style of the poems within it. The voice heard in the poems is meditative, dwelling on the observed landscapes from an inner landscape of stillness, feeling and awareness. The world observed herein is the countryside- there is space, the natural phenomena of animal and plant life and some human presence also. The colour of things sing out in vibrant urgency in beautiful painterly images.

“Beaches I have danced upon” “An oyster harvest bagged in red.” “Stars glisten inside a magician’s cloak” “Gorse is a yellow surprise.” “Imagine we could, with lines deep, capture the wisdom of a salmon’s leap”.

One poem intrigued me, “Discords”. Could it be a song about a large group interaction? Perhaps it is a metaphor for difficulties in the family, association or society. In any event it is a philosophical observation on a living, organic system which might act as a container for friction and difference and opposition. The schism has clearly happened.

I have joined the split from the split
wonder what period of harmonic interlude
can be attained, what arpeggios
voices can raise, if we traverse the distance from middle C to high G
and make it back to base
before voices break and further discords
take the strain of the refrain
to heights that make the stress intolerable
to the ear and the metre so incomprehensible
each part sounds its melody
alone a prelude to further acrimony.
Again. From the beginning.
Amen.

The most engaging poem for me was “Not a Question of Belief” It is a beautiful statement of personal belief and philosophy, a credo for agnostics!

I put my faith in mystery. Listen
at the altar to the unknown god.
 
Work out by living
the unfolding question of life
dance
although it is hard
to celebrate mean thoughts
and fear of scarcity and loss and death.

 

I create graven images for shelter
edifices of belief-boxes-
and cling to sides blown open.

 

In fear I hope, embrace darkness
light a candle to love, lower ramparts
surrender to Mystery.
 

In the sonnet “Licit Elixir” there’s a weaving together of images and ideas, referring to and connecting disparate things into a lovely tapestry; elephants and ivory towers, whispering reeds and the secret of the king.  In the very musical phrases “footfall and fingers deft and devout / dedicate themselves to making flutes”, and “ancestral patterns carve through aeons”, the music of the phrases has echoes for me of Gaelic poetry.

There is great variety here. The aching melancholic beauty in the “Summer and Winter” After Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds this reader of Eliot’s Four Quartets. It is philosophical, holding grief as the necessary balance to life and fullness. The third verse especially caught me.

She sings a song of unrequited life
laments times past and
time to come
wishes she had loved less, and more
that life was not material
all the time knowing
that no note can sound
until it is played
regrets the discords
without which the harmony
for which she longs
is null and void.

Celebration and re-remembering the life lived are evoked in the sequence “Beaches I have danced Upon”, which brings to the mind’s eye the haunting seascapes of Connemara. The poet recalls the camping holidays there  and the stages of family life. Small children, then bigger, tents, then camping alone convey the cycle of family life. She celebrates her self in “Back of Cleggan”. “I swam alone there… I danced.”

Not all the poems are so accessible; a few are clearly personal statements to an other. But the voice rings true as a bell, mature, sweet, wise, sad, critical and questioning. A poem is such a wonderful thing, isn’t it? It can transport, set us back, alter our mood, upset us, ring bells, set us on an interior journey in to the Mystery. And Susan has achieved this and more.