Fitting tribute to a fine poet and Irish activist

Gerard Curran reviews Poems by Eamonn McLaughlin, published by Boudicca Press, £2.50 (isbn 0-9542108-0-8)

EAMONN McLAUGHLIN, who died in 1999, was a member of the Connolly Association for forty-seven years — including a stint as the organisation’s general secretary. He was also a fine poet, as this collection, published posthumously by his widow Barbara, demonstrates.

It covers a great diversity of themes and techniques, many of the poems inspired by the places the poet lived in or travelled to — Ireland, London and the Dordogne in southern France, where he and Barbara lived for several years.

One poem refers to unnamed colonies where there have been competing religions. Coleraine, his birthplace, is represented by Dissenter:

I am from the womb of the poor; 
If my forebears had land, they left none for me
If they won battles, the medals are sold,
Broken branches are my ancestral tree.

Observations while living in West London inspired the poem Nettles whose final stanza ends:

Nettles are gathered in Holland Park
by Romanian refugees
within the murmur of High Street Ken,
where Sainsburys and Safeways
display in perfect plastic-wrapped,
treated, dated, priced and labelled profusion
green beans from Kenya,
scallions from Egypt,
mangetout from Guatemala,
asparagus from Thailand.

His passion for the sea and seashores is reflected in Debris, which takes the reader from the ruins of Dunluce, Tramore, to the Ligurian Sea off the south-west coast of France. In Coastguard the poet travels in time from childhood to adulthood and alertness against new invaders.

Oppression is another theme dealt with in this collection. Undertaking deals with invasion and massacre. It could be Roman, Norman or British colonising activities. The seventh verse explains the 'benefits' of rule by the 'conqueror':

Therefore we made them honoured citizens,
Built roads, assemblies, courts and schools
Where they could learn to speak our cultured tongue
And understand our much admired disciplines and rules.

But the colonised were not grateful, hence the last two lines:

We fail before the fearsome citadel
Of the savage unforgiving soul.

Like many who spent an adult life trying to improve democracy, in Ireland and Britain, Eamonn McLaughlin was shocked by the Lawrence case. In For Stephen Lawrence. He says, forthrightly:

Flawed are the guardians of our rights;
Above their door blue are the lights,
Some of their ways dark as the nights.

For imagination and originality I would draw special attention to poems such as DNA Patent, Contrition, and On the Island.

But, these poems are not all serious. With its easy rhyme the humour of Porcupine, spoken aloud, will bring much laughter. There’s also slapstick to rival Spike Milligan’s poetry in Christmas Day in France — a surreal trip to Paris on a London bus.

Thanks are due to Barbara McLaughlin for her dedication in compiling this astonishing volume.

  • Copies of Poems by Eamonn McLaughlin can be purchased from the Four Provinces Bookshop or from Boudicca Press, Gosport PO12 3PH, England

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