Review of It’s Time by Eamonn Lynskey by Sue Norton, Dublin Institute of Technology
Sue Norton is a lecturer of English in The Dublin Institute of Technology. She writes essays, reviews, and literary criticism.
Irish poet Eamonn Lynskey’s volume of verse called It’s Time, published by Salmon Poetry (2017), is self-conscious in literal and beautiful ways — literal in its articulations, beautiful in its aspirations. “All Those Thousand Souls” (25) begins, “This poet never had a lump of shrapnel wedged inside his head or sat bewildered in the bombed-out wreckage of his home–”. It then guides the reader through the devastating violence and loss suffered by families in Bangladesh to conclude that the poet can and should continue to do what little and whatever he can to assuage suffering, including “check High Street labels carefully, choose Fairtrade products,” and yes, “compose angry poems.”
Such incantation to power over powerlessness typifies Lynskey’s tone throughout the collection. He is highly attuned to pain and injustice in life, but not at all overcome by it. His poems ask us to ask ourselves questions and thus insist that change is not only worthy of us, but incumbent upon us too. In “Deposition” (24), for instance, an unidentified body is found in the night, possibly hanged, yet the women who come upon it in the morning do not look away. They pray over it and leave behind flowers, human compassion once again lighting the way toward tomorrow.
In “Listening to My Elders” (19), the first person speaker identifies with those in recent history who have “just followed orders” in carrying out atrocities. By accepting the probability of obedience to maniacal power in times of genocide or brutal colonial expansion, the narrating voice self-incriminates for crimes committed while also rhetorically suggesting the likelihood that many of us would protect ourselves through collusion with evil too. The message? We must guard society against the rise to power of corrupting forces so that none of us will ever find we are about to “machete severed limb from torso.”
Such up-close, at times unflinching and always highly specific language of both ordinary and extraordinary human experience is characteristic of Lynskey’s composition. Read aloud, his lines trip easily off the tongue because his lexicon is so common to the words we use with each other every day. His syntax, while never convoluted, still achieves a lyrical quality. Lynskey’s touch is light, his syllabication deft, and his verse thematically inviting for readers of all kinds who wish to ruminate on life as we know it, in the here and now, because every “going forth” is “a risk,” every “safe return a victory. And until our “Final Notice” (66), there is still time to achieve a higher purpose.
© Susan Norton