A Pilgrim’s Progress – A Review of Meadow of the Spell by Rose Moran

Reviewed by Alan McMonagle

Celebration. This is one of the first words that comes to mind after reading and reflection upon the poems in Meadow of the Spell, Rose Moran’s third published collection. Some other words that quickly arrive include beauty, nature, colour, fragrance. Mountains, rivers, trees, stones. For here we have a poet who takes delight in bearing witness to the physical world about her. Acknowledging the abundant earth seems to be her calling. And sharing all that she encounters her poetic mission. The poems stay close to home and also travel far and wide. And all the time we are presented with the varied and alternating landscapes, along with the attendant rewards – physiological and psychological, visual and aural; revealed and hidden; mystical and spiritual – on offer.

The poet is a pilgrim in the world. Whether it be Oban or Annaduff, Umbria or Dalgan, Rocamadour or Clare Island, Vilamoura or Kiltegan, matters little. And while there is a spiritual connection evident in the various faraway locations sprinkled throughout the collection, the presence of more localised venues such as Castle Forbes, the river Camlin, Lough Ree, Arigna, Corlea Interpretive Centre (to mention but a few) leads me to believe that ultimately it is not so much individual settings in themselves that matters so much as the stuff of these settings (‘A kingfisher blue sun-gilded / Wing-skims the water…’); the impressions made (‘A Heaney Postscript moment / Blows her heart off guard’); and experience absorbed (‘Allow ourselves be taken by / Surprise in something new). This is further suggested in poems like Between Two Worlds, Rainbow Links and Shower of Snow wherein the poet chooses to leave the reader in the dark as to the precise whereabouts of the poem, and more importantly it seems, delights in witnessed phenomena (autumn Equinox, rainbow, snowfall).

Ambitious in scope, determined in execution, this then is a collection intent on covering lots of ground. Wonderment abounds. The explosion of colour in poems such as Rainbow Links and Colour Call. The slow and easy pleasures up for grabs in By Joy Surprised, Morning Curry Lane and Hidden Stream. The delicate balancing act of spiritual and physical in the titular poem Meadow Of The Spell. The sudden humanity in the poignant and life-affirming Beltane With Mary Ann. The wonder and mystery evident in The Limes; and the acceptance of this mystery for what it is – something out of reach, beyond grasp, unseen and yet there. The epiphanic dismantling of a gas cooker in the startlingly effective Enlightened. The vivid recollecting in poems like Makarska Memory and Homecoming. And so it goes, the final poem itself (Homecoming) finally closing the circle of this poetic pilgrimage.

As a writer with an interest in how a poem looks in addition to matters of artistic intent and thematic concerns, I was struck (in a good way) by the lack of punctuation in the poems. It is so pleasing to read these fluid stanzas safe in the knowledge that the poet is not afraid and comfortable enough with her syntactical arrangements to allow her rhythms and images and language itself do her bidding. It also speaks to the overarching thematic concern of the collection – a sense of ongoing nature, a nod to forces (mysterious, unknowable) that will outlast us all, and an abiding disposition to the conceit that we are each and every one of us but a fleeting fragment of some all-encompassing and everlasting miracle. Indeed, as the Elizabeth Barrett Browning epigraph bids us, should we not indeed take off our shoes before all of this ever-present wonder. There is a consistent formality to the poems. The poet has a finely tuned sense of the line break, she is never afraid to cut short a line, and I like the way nouns are paramount, at times co-opted delightfully into verbs: ‘Frolicking fern patterns / Labyrinth a way’ (In Dalgan Wood); ‘We coach in sun past fields / Of sunflowers…’ (Along The Plain Of Umbria).

The work nods heavily to the spiritual influence of the Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Indeed the epigraph chosen to precede the collection is taken from Browning’s much lauded Aurora Leigh, a multiple-part, epic poem that, not unlike the poems under review, traverses much geographical ground. I was steered into recalling some of my own early venturing into the big world and the spell cast on me by exotic vistas and faraway landscapes, and in turn, how these distant impressions opened my eyes to what was closer to home. And if there is a message of sorts emanating from the smorgasbord of images on offer, perhaps it pertains to the matter that sometimes we must venture faraway in order to better see what is on our very own doorstep.

These are tender, observant, brimming-with-the-things-of-the-earth poems. At times they read like straightforward meditations on the natural beauty of the world (Minaun Of Achill, Horseshoe Island, In San Jose). At other times we are offered more probing reflections that summon the reader to question his or her place in the grand scheme of things (Where Two Worlds Meet, Leaving Oban, Along The Plain Of Umbria). The parade of images continues. The poet’s appetite and zest for the things of the earth is what lingers. And, of course, her message: hello, everybody. Look around you! Poets are like sailors, a painter friend once told me. They are from nowhere and everywhere. This is a collection worthy of such an observation.