Thursday, 17 September 2020

The darkening hue of the years, Richie McCaffery's First Hare

Richie McCaffery is an unusual poet. To start with, his poems are immediately recognisable. And then there’s his commitment to his method. Instead of shedding a skin after every book, reinventing himself for the following collection, he chips away at his concerns. This quality shines through once more in his new pamphlet, First Hare (Mariscat Press, 2020), which builds on the foundations of his previous books, layering them with additional nuances in both aesthetic and thematic terms.

I’ve mentioned in the past that McCaffery is one of the best in the business when it comes to so-called poetic leaps. This device involves the invocation of an object, person or situation, followed by an unexpected, startling comparison with another object, person or situation. The comparison might at first seem incongruous, but poets of McCaffery’s skill render it inevitable and enlightening, thus capturing their reader.

One such instance in First Hare can be found in Lighthouse. This poem portrays a picture that’s hung on a bedroom wall in the first stanza; the second stanza introduces the figure of a sleeping partner; the third then brings both elements together as follows:

…It’s drawn in such a way
to imply that the onlooker
is deep in the eye of the storm.

Larkin might famously and disingenuously have disavowed the poet’s obligation to develop. However, McCaffery does so via deft steps forward in pieces such as Mac, which delivers a complex narrative with several character in eight lines. It’s one of those poems that doesn’t do itself justice via short extracts and it’s not fair to quote it in full in a blog review, so you’ll have to get hold of a copy of First Hare to appreciate the skill that’s brought to the table.

And then there’s also McCaffery’s thematic development. He’s always been excellent at delicate touches of wry whimsy, especially when bringing his poems to a close, but this new work finds him adding the extra tempering qualities of age, the darkening hue of the years that have gone by, as in the closing lines to Sports Days…

…On mandatory sports days I always took pride
in taking my time and if someone fell down,

bloodied their knee I’d stop to help them back up.
She’d be there, cheering me on as I came last.

One of McCaffery’s many achievements has been the gradual accumulation of a loyal readership for his poetry over the course of his earlier books. They won’t be disappointed by this fresh addition, but it’s also ideal for others who hadn’t previously discovered his lucid, clear-cut and thought-provoking work. First Hare will provide them with a perfect snapshot and introduction to his art.

Richie McCaffery speaks to us directly, with passion, with sincerity. He moves us in ways that should theoretically lie beyond the capacity of such accessible words. His poetry is essential reading.

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