With craggy Celtic metaphysics and perfect linguistic pitch, R. T. Smith evokes the landscape, culture, and history of Ireland and the New World through the eyes and ears of an outsider. Words matter to Smith, and the language of these poems is knotty and precise, blazing into moments of recognition with the elliptical testimony and spare light of everyday objects:
. . . adze
and hammer, gate
latch, cracked Baleek
and a Claddagh brooch.
It is this muted voice of perfection, speaking from the simple lines of Shaker furniture, that chills the speaker of “New Lebanon” as he reflects upon the religious sect’s “hard bargain / with God, their promise / to be virtue’s monsters.”
Trespasser arcs with rigorous unity of vision from the secular to the heights of spiritual rapture, until the demarcation between world and spirit finally begins to blur. In a parable of the perfection in disorder, “Before the Breakup” juxtaposes the heartbreak of parting against the discovery of a bee embalmed in a jar of bramble jam. And “Passage to Kilronin,” a meditation on the drowning of a boy from one of the local trawlers, eloquently voices the notion of cosmic kinship.
The collection ends on an eerily pastoral note with the crepuscular, self-composed epitaph of St. Gristle, a holy madman:
I will be love’s gallows,
all sap and marrow,
mad lament of shadows
and a mouthful of birds
dying to sing.
Surely, this book suggests, between world and spirit there is, for those who can see, no demarcation at all.Trespasser is a dazzling, passionate collection, certain to delight and move any reader who has an ear for the music of language played by a virtuoso.
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