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Nelson and the Huruburu Bird
By Mairéad Byrne
Review by: Moira Richards

  1/1/04

ISBN: 1903090385

Despite the advice of conventional wisdom, I am a sucker for a book with a beautiful cover. The one on Nelson and the Huruburu Bird features a painting (seen to the left) of an under-water scene with big fish and little fish, vibrant colour and wacky bits of human body parts, and it depicts beautifully, its ebullient and satirical content. A number of these poems have also previously been published in a variety of journals and anthologies, including some contemporary Irish and well-known feminist publications.

Mairéad Byrne, in an interview accessible on the publisher's website, describes her work as encompassing "short compact poems and loose billowy poems, lyric poems and concrete poems, found poems and worked poems, political poems and alienated poems, Irish poems and not-so-Irish poems, too-much-woman poems and not-enough-woman poems, poems about love and home, and experimental poems." And this description (as does the book's cover) indeed does give the reader a good indication of the wide range of style she might expect to find in the volume.

Generally Ms Byrne's writing is elegant, witty, gently ironic, and the poems in Nelson and the Huruburu Bird look at various familiar and ordinary aspects of life with a perceptive vision that reveals these to be not as uneventful or as mundane as one might have supposed. She writes in an accessible colloquial style that immediately draws the reader's interest right into the poems, and she usually ends each one with a thought or a statement that reflects right back into it, and that has the reader flipping back to its beginning to reread it with a different enjoyment in the light of those last lines.

Three of the poems in this collection, each dedicated "to the Travelling People of Ireland" (also known as gypsies) will illustrate the kind of reading pleasure that Byrne offers. A poem entitled, "Céad Míle Fáilte," which is the Irish tourist board's marketing by-line and translates into "One Hundred Thousand Welcomes," is a loose, sarcastic litany directed against the folk who offer their "One Hundred Thousand Welcomes" only to certain tourists. And these definitely do not include the Travelling People of their country.

"The Hidden Ireland" is an innocuous looking list of the names of a few Irish guesthouses. All are cosy, friendly sounding names that invite the traveller to stop and to overnight for a day or a few. But the last line abruptly dispels this illusion of national hospitality, reading tersely, "And Temporary Dwellings Prohibited."

"Olé Olé Olé Olé" takes for its title the Irish soccer supporters' chant, and it is a jolly celebration of these oft-shunned Travelling People and their choice of lifestyle. Mairéad Byrne salutes them all from "the sturdy girls with fat plaits/And gold hoops through their ears!" to the "trainers and raw heels!" Almost every sentence in this poem begins with "Hooray," most end with an emphatic"!"and the poem rollicks compellingly along, right through its euphoric last line, "Hooray for me!"

A little volume full of fun and, strewn liberally with sugar-coated pills. Check out the publisher's site at www.wildhoneypress.com to hear an audio of Mairéad reading some of her poetry.

 



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