‘The Giant’s Footsteps at the Rock of Dunamaise’
By Arthur Broomfield
Published by Revival Press (Limerick, Ireland)
Arthur Broomfield makes his intentions clear from the outset in his latest collection, ‘The Giant’s Footsteps at the Rock of Dunamaise’. Dedicating the collection to the memory of André Breton, he begins by quoting from Breton’s Surrealism Manifesto of 1924. If ‘living and ceasing to live … are imaginary solutions’, we are instructed to consider that ‘existence is elsewhere’.
‘Bloom 2016’ opens the collection of 51 poems and in many ways sets the tone for the rest of the work. The lines
‘each strand defiant in its prickly,
disinterested, sun-blessed way’
could be taken as a comment on the collection as a whole; with each poem presenting ideas that are both glorious and unnerving. We are being offered ‘a notion of reality that mystifies the senses’. This mystification is achieved through language that is sensual and acutely observed
The next poem, ‘The Beewoman Works at her Hive’, written in response to a painting by Brigid Mansfield, provides clear evidence of Broomfield’s precise understanding of the weight of each word as it builds from the silence of ‘Lulls in the natural order/when the dead leaves have been buried’, past ‘the indecisive rhododendron’ to arrive triumphant at the concluding stanza which hits us with the full force of its joyous wordplay.
‘Now I am the ethereal one returned
from the debacle of maternal earth,
of it and on it, the calm in the storm.
I am here in the hum and whirr
of these zips and zooms, visible,
as a pallid robe and medieval yellow gloves,
the infinite spirit that assumes presence,
laying hands on the pollinating hive.’
These ‘zips and zooms’ now whisk us heavenwards in the next poem, ‘October Evening Clonreher’, to ‘The sky hung high above the silent moon’ before we swoop past ‘the munching cow house and hay-filled haggard’ to view ‘the cameo appearance of the beet train’ which is ‘staged to a backdrop of glittered stars/ in Mrs Delaney’s field.’ This journeying through everyday details, described in the language of theatrical production, encapsulates both the appeal and the scope of the surreal within Broomfield’s poems. Through them we are able to ‘clutch the tingle from the unexpected.’
‘In the Beginning Was The Word’ is another ekphrastic poem, after Caravaggio’s ‘The Taking of Christ’ where Broomfield views Christ as ‘the out of luck tycoon/ at the tables.’ With allusions to Yeats, Shakespeare and the Gospel of St John, once more the sheer force of Broomfield’s description propels us through a rich, alliterative tumble of images towards the final line, which encapsulates the attraction of the surreal,
‘This Hamlet to your Horatio, who compels
farmers, fishermen, cold clad soldiers and policemen
to renounce their laws of men and Gods sees,
in the clarity of the silent Judean night,
so beyond your five loaves
and three small fishes,
not as sun, stars or candle anywhere,
beyond black and moonlight and somewhere,
the pure light of the pitchfork shine.’
There is a strand of wry humour weaving its way through these poems, evident in ‘Food For Thought’ with the waiter who wonders whether ‘Sir will be having cheese/on pickled toast, then?’ in response to Broomfield’s ‘Moby Dick moment’. What is most evident, however, is the subtle guidance we receive on how to read these poems, through the remarkable images which punctuate the collection and, in so doing, neatly encapsulate the world view we are offered when considering the surreal. In ‘The Emo Poem’, for example, ‘the curious star/ in the cold dawn, singing’ captures with delightful delicacy and poise the beauty in the surreal.
‘He Ponders On His Reality’ is, in many ways, Broomfield’s own manifesto. If the pressure to conform condemns us to be like the ant ‘navigating a block of margarine up the Rock of Dunmaise’ then whose are the giant’s footsteps in the title of the collection? Are they the ant’s engaged in his Sisyphean task or the jackbooted narrator who joins ‘The goose-stepping throng merrily marching for their morning coffee’ – or both? In the end, it is all a matter of perspective.
A good collection should bristle with electricity as poems spark off each other, encouraging us to read them afresh to create new meanings. The poem ‘Days Like This’ takes up the self-referential baton. The lines,
‘In this moment
When the tomato is so tomato’
chime beautifully with ‘October Evening Clonreher’, as they are, after all, ‘fulfilling the narrative that made them’. The line that roars the impact of the surreal, however, is ‘they sing the songs of second violins’ implying that, in appreciating the surreal, it is the accompanying music we should listen for, rather than the tuneful cadences of the traditional star turn, whose ‘existence is elsewhere’ as the epigraph had observed.
Appearing throughout the collection is the idea of the everydayness of the surreal. Recurring phrases such as ‘days like these’, ‘a day like the others’ and ‘It’s a forge like all others’ suggest that examples of the surreal are all around us – we just have to take the time to look and listen. ‘The Thrown One’ sparkles with the to and fro of sounds thrown and echoed. If we allow ourselves to roam freely among these poems, we too might,
‘[see] it through the butterflies and flies
And buttered scones and apple dumplings for afters.
The beyond is a hazy daisy of soft noises
And welded afterthoughts wrestling
With the werewolf of Christmas presents.’
Not only has Arthur Broomfield succeeded in creating a collection of beautifully crafted surreal poems but he has also implied how we might approach reading them. He has achieved this in a way that is neither dictatorial nor heavy-handed. If, as the introductory quotation advises, existence is elsewhere, that is because Broomfield has shown us the potential that resides in the Costa Coffee, Portlaoise Prison, The Market Square and, of course, the Rock of Dunamaise, for example. In presenting us with the surreal of the everyday, he has revealed poetic possibilities that will speak with equal persuasion to those steeped in surrealism and those taking their first, tentative steps. I enjoyed reading this collection immensely; after all, it has convinced me that my heart belongs to Dada.
Mentoring with Dr Arthur Bloomfield
Arthur Broomfield, is offering an online mentoring service to anyone who wishes to develop the art and craft of writing poetry. Mentoring, unlike workshops, is an intensive, one to one focus on the work of the poet that will be critical, yet supportive . Members will be encouraged to write, to read given texts related to their style and outlook and to explore their imaginative process. Dr Broomfield, an English teacher and Ph.D in English literature, is a published poet, Beckett scholar and essayist. He has published seven books including three books of poetry, a ground-breaking study of the works of Samuel Beckett and a memoir. For details of the course email [email protected]