Safe Home, Mícheál McCann
Green Bottle Press, 2020 £6.00
Place is at the core of the poems in Safe Home. A poet heralding from Derry, Mícheál McCann captures essential atmosphere through his observations of people, textures, and landscape.
For example, in the third poem, ‘Urstudien’, part of a sequence called ‘Études’, he writes of ‘the central heating system’, which ‘growls — no — rumbles / The house going to sleep my mother would say’. This is delightfully homely and earth-bound; it sets the scene of a poet-musician practising ‘different chord / patterns to strengthen the muscles in my fingers’. He plays as ‘the washing machine burps. We duet into the night.’ That duet of washing machine and guitarist sets up a contrast between ordinary noise and performed music, which McCann explores elsewhere.
In ‘Ignorance (The Country Farm)’, ‘someone roars with a smile you can hear’; and in ‘Peadar’s’:
If the banjo player is leading this quintet
the beardy, pint-kissed dancers conduct.
These details add up to a geographically-precise home atmosphere. ‘Mystery insects buzz / by the fence posts’ in the landscape of ‘pitch-black Donegal’ in ‘Hook-Up’. And in the opening poem, ‘Études’, there’s talk of ‘concerts in the Ulster Hall’. Here, the narrator’s ‘friends’ think that
This is because I want to learn
Fingerboard electric dashes of
The Shostakovich or the Barber
However (and fascinatingly), he attends
in the hope that something goes
wrong. The gold-plated E string
snapping mid-cadenza. An earring
slipping off, bouncing on the chin rest
then the floor pop pop.... Bang.
I like the pioneering spirit here of the ‘hope that something goes wrong’ in the music-making context. Equally, though, the ending phase of the poem twists this spirit. The poet wishes to know how the musicians ‘deal with disaster’, and the concluding question (‘could I learn this, this coping?’) harkens back to the politically-loaded title (or is it politically-loaded?) Safe Home.