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Noel King



Catherine Phil MacCarthy


Noel King, The Stern Wave (Salmon Poetry, 2013), €12.

The title of Noel King's The Stern Wave comes from a line in the first poem in this, his second collection, titled 'Painter': 'I see ropes everywhere, am painting a series of knots: / love knots, / strangle knots, / a rolling hitch, / the Dutch cringle, / the slipper hitch, / the stern wave'. This collection includes fifty-nine poems on an eclectic range of topics, many written in the style of a dramatic monologue. Diverse personas are assumed: these are talky poems, mostly written in free verse, loosely structured. In 'Stilt School' the speaker is a Trinidadian teenager: 'My sneakers are super-glued man, / to planks of wood, long woods / so we can walk tall man, walk tall, / our teacher hav both feet on the earth'.
     We hear a grandmother, a policeman, a domestic servant, schoolgirls, teenage boys, a migrant worker, and a tour guide in a poem titled 'Touring the Poet's House'. Several poems depict nightmare scenarios: 'He's twenty-eight, the mother's / out all day, he could be out all day; // but no, he pisses in the wash-hand basin, / never washes, his caveman hair falling over the cheeses // he scurries from the fridge / in the middle of the night' ('Grounded'). King's poems are full of people – comic, vulgar, sadistic, or suicidal: 'The mare is shooting shit / ahead of our headlights, / frantic this way that way' ('Black Horse'). Or they are detached, merciless observers: 'As your body / consecrated / itself on the steps / of a church altar, / she moved in agony / in the far field, / closing her eyes, / flinging / your dead baby in the bog' ('Ordination Day'). Several poems evoke premature death or suicide with tabloid efficiency:
zany and grotesque, there is fascination and repulsion in equal measure.
     Here and there, in 'Island', for instance, or 'The End of the Season', the poems become more mysterious as they move inward and reflect:

row me to the mouth
of the mountain river

where the ancestors descended
to our valley and settled

row me like there is no tomorrow –


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