Pádraig Ó Tuama’s first collection of poetry, Readings from the Book of Exile, will be launched on Saturday 15 September at 7 pm at Common Grounds Café in Belfast.
I expect we’ll be treated to some live recitation by Ó Tuama on the night, and a chance to take home a copy of the book.
In my review of the novel Widows’ Row by Shirley-Anne McMillan, I confessed that as an academic social scientist, it was somewhat out of my comfort zone to review a novel. Reviewing poetry is even further out of my comfort zone.
I have read Readings from the Book of Exile and can attest that I savoured many of the poems.
For me, some were appropriate as readings for a lectio divinia style meditation; others powerfully utilised (helpfully translated) Irish phrases that still stick with me, such as:
Mo sheasamh ort, lá na choise tinne – You are my standing on the day when my feet are sore
Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine – It is in the shelter of each other that the people live
But for a better review of Readings from the Book of Exile than I could offer I called on my sister, Carla Ganiel, to write one. Carla has been an avid reader and writer of poetry for as long as I can remember, studied it at university, and now works for the Corporation for National Service in Washington DC. Thanks, Carla!
Carla Ganiel: Guest Review of Pádraig Ó Tuama’s Readings from the Book of Exile
In Padraig Ó Tuama’s poetry, exile brings us closer to God and forges the compassion that enables us to connect more deeply with others. Ó Tuama writes:
It is only when I’ve
sailed across an ocean,
that I can meet you truly.
And I see
you in me
and the me in you
sees through me.
The importance of narrative is a theme that runs through the work. Narrative is the thread that helps us make meaning when we are lost. Even more importantly, when God seems very far away, it is the acknowledgement of God as co-creator of the narrative that offers consolation. In “Narrative theology #2,” Ó Tuama writes: “God is the crack / where the story begins. / We are the crack / where the story gets interesting.” Later in the same poem, we see God at the centre of transformation in exile, “God is the bit / that we can’t explain – / maybe the healing / maybe the pain.”
These are poems full of big ideas and big questions. From my seat on the sidelines of the American culture wars, the poem “Mourning prayer,” a nuanced and compassionate take on the issue of abortion, is one of the most powerful poems in the collection:
Son of God,
who never had a womb;
here’s my prayer,
offered with empty hands
Ó Tuama is a performance poet who is involved with the Ikon collective in Belfast. Performance poetry can lose a bit of its power when confined to paper. Ó Tuama’s poems rely heavily on rhythm, which no doubt brings them alive in performance, but in some cases the imagery could be more precise, the language a bit tighter. The poem “L is for Lonely” is one that holds its own on paper, but it came alive when I heard Ó Tuama read it during a recent podcast.
Even so, the poems in this collection offer hope and comfort. Ó Tuama is a gentle guide through a difficult emotional landscape. The last poem in the book bids us “Go in pieces / to see / and feel your world.” Our response to this broken blessing must surely be, “Thanks be to God.”