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Safe Home, Mícheál McCannThe first impression of the jacket is a rich orangey red, with a curve of something that could be the inside of an ear. Or it could just be a design -- really hard to tell. Either way, inside this curve, in large black lower case sans serif, are the two words of the title, each its own line. 'Safe' could be right in the middle of the jacket. 'home' has been moved slightly furhter to the right. The author's name, much small, is in dark grey italics just above.

Green Bottle Press, 2020  £6.00

Music-breaking

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.

Nell Prince

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