Poetry Book Society Choice for Autumn 2000, and shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize
and where I've hoped to hear my name gasped out, from cradle, love bed, death bed, there instead I catch her voice, her broken lisp, his name.It would be very difficult for any poet to sustain this very high quality of writing, and Donaghy doesn't. Later on in Conjure there is more than one insubstantial lyric, the odd bit of hack writing, some shorter verses that could have been excluded. But just when you are getting wearied Donaghy throws up another absolute gem, another breathtaking poem which sparkles with his tell-tale wit, demotic bathos, verbal dexterity, emotional candour, pure lyrical style and formal diversity. --Sean Thomas
are shed, and every day
the bloated cadavers
of lovers or lover
who drown in cars this way. /
And they crowbar the door
and ordinary stories pour,
furl, crash, and spill downhill -
as water will - not orient,
nor sparkling, but still
There is a lot of pain in this book, a lot of loss. There is his father, there is the child - looking in wonder and without sadness, and there are signs of a Catholicism lived and left behind. There are terrible facts from history, in 'Where is it written that I must die here' there is a scene so horrible that it gave me a nightmare and haunts the edge of my imaginings, but that is the poet's job - lest we forget and such facts drown in such seas as the Guinness Book of Records. Against the pain and loss there is humour and tenderness and metaphysical fancy. In both the music that he makes and the stories he tells there are beats and images that make us laugh. There is also laughter and delight as he magics words into giving us pictures of mysterious realms.
The love in his poetry is everywhere: it is in the gentle melancholy he displays as what is lost is paid homage, it is there in the sympathy he gives for (nearly) all who appear in his poems, and it is there for his son who possesses this book in a deeper way than a normal dedication would give - the last poem in the book Haunts concerns the poet and his son haunting each other across time. In Proust, time is transcended when some sensation now so mirrors some sensation from our past that we are lifted above time and taken back to our being as it was then; in Haunts three times are brought together, not into a moment above time, but by a magic in which across the years father and son say the words 'Don't be afraid' to each other. In a paradoxical triangle of causality this simple and beautiful sentiment ties together the three times - Conjure shows us many terrifying and distressing things, but this is its true message: Don't be afraid.
Choosing his books of the year for the Observer, Melvyn Bragg said "Conjure contains poems which are as deeply structured, as lucid, moving and witty as Auden at his best". I agree, but there is also something reminiscent of Yeats in Donaghy, both in the music of the words and the astonishing vividness of the pictures he creates. More than anything, tho', he is his own man building a vast and wonderful world for us to delight in and learn from. This is an essential work of poetry of our time and it is a profound pleasure.