Review: All Stepped / Undone – by Michael McAloran.

the griefscape as no-place: All Stepped / Undone – by Michael McAloran.

endless ribcage of the sky / the glut of blood beneath
and a pulse of shit / dry your eyes / it’s just beginning

( p123 ,  all stepped / undone – ) is © Michael McAloran

All Stepped /Undone- is Michael McAloran’s fifth full poetry collection, and his second full collection with Oneiros Press. Tracing a line through McAloran’s work to date, one can discern a drive to whittle his poetic voice to its essential core.

All Stepped /Undone- is sometimes a griefscape, the collection is by turns both nihilistic and elegiac in its tone:

as if to –

bled winds of
   the unspoken
spasm lock of the atoned blood
   no not enough
paling into
birthing as if to ….

(p54 , as if to – from in thin dreaming- ) is © Michael McAloran

In structural terms All Stepped /Undone is loosely tripartite, however it is not as structurally underpinned as in McAloran’s In Damage Seasons – (Onerios Press 2013) which was somewhat more defined and contained within the poet’s structuring of his text. This is no bad thing in itself, as an evident structure can limit the movement of the text. I have included my reading of In Damage Seasons- at link.  cf. my note at the end of this post.

The three parts of All Stepped /Undone- are :  till claimed – of thin dreaming – ,  and all stepped /undone- .

till claimed- and of thin dreaming – are quite similar in form and in their sharing of theme and image. all stepped /undone- while sharing and picking up on these themes is aphoristic and condensed in its poetic expression:

head of dust / no /that was the drapery of the silence /
called upon /subtle till graceless / till bounty / reflected
upon /lest the burgeoning see

(p106 , all stepped /undone – ) is ©  Michael McAloran

One can see the development of McAloran’s voice from his earlier collection of aphorisms , Attributes, through the third section of this current book. His poetic voice has become skilled and honed to allow for his sure expressiveness which he achieves in the least amount of words.

Readers of Michael McAloran would do well to acquire the books Attributes and In Damage Seasons to see how he has developed and opened out his poetic work. I mention those previous works in particular as they are most related to the current text under review, in my view.

I feel that McAloran is directing his skill toward a quality of expressiveness that is the sure mark of the artist. He is developing a mature poetic voice that has a quality of tone  rare in contemporary Irish poetics :

back-flexed / the arrow’s breath to claim the sky of /
night / the bread broken / such was the blade’s redeem /
or the blood-cut star of light / glistening /of the heart’s

(p 116, all stepped /undone -) is ©  Michael McAloran

Whilst related to McAloran’s collection of aphorisms, Attributes, in form, and to In Damage Seasons in its intent and expression, this work is more loosely structured than both, and is therefore built wholly in the active poetic voice. The poet’s voice as mouthpiece of the internal landscape. In this case the voice or protagonist is mouthing his grief and alienation.

Of the three parts to this book , till claimed- is the furthest the writer will go in terms of his willingness to express alienation. The poems herein, and those of in of thin dreaming- are generally longer than in the final eponymously titled section.

There is as always with McAloran  a complexity of image and a deprecating humour, the poem scuttle- can be read a few ways:


scuttle –

impossible ashes
splice of
 dread knock and yet …
of the lock upon
spill of spurious lights
    caress of…
sun light
worthless as breath
with my little eye
longing of
scuttle of dead hand wavering

scuttle – is from till claimed – p11 of All Stepped/Undone and © Michael McAloran

 One is never quite sure, hence my delight at word-play and at McAloran’s image-play/ply of.

With McAloran a longer poem can be less expressive than the short aphorism. it is often akin to witnessing the unleashed voice in I (till claimed – ) warm up and spit out a gully :


why ask
answered /
   (absence of light)
rage of death
and the cold ravage
of stone
    in dead weather sun light
coil/casket of
X.-ed out
final throes

(p 71 , of thin dreaming – ) is © Michael McAloran


The unaccommodated and loosely structured poetic voice suits the visual artist in McAloran:

biting still-

vortices of …
(ah spill the night
     ..into cups of earth)
in this dry sunlight
   breaking for favour sensed
earthed from out of which to cast
vacantly as shadow

(p46 excerpt of biting still- from of thin dreaming- ) is © Michael McAloran.

Note : I have linked my reading of In Damage Seasons- here , the reason being that while the two texts share a tripartite structure , they are vastly differing works in terms of how the writer manages his expression. In Damage Seasons- has a structural containment, a triptych architecture, that felt almost imprisoning as it tied down the poet’s voice.


‘Swallows’ and other poems by Doireann Ní Ghríofa


The knitting needles
drew melodies from silence
as stitches seemed to follow
one another like swallows
alighting upon a wire,
watching the tiny dress
of softest yellow wool
grow like a sunrise
waiting for she
who waited within.

She, who came
and left
all too soon.

Stretched and stitched,
I lie empty, raw, alone
In the cold corridor of the hospital
grey knot of my mind
grasping blindly for meaning
I hold the soft brightness to my cheek,
then unravel the stitches

Swallows of hope
disappearing at sunset
to some unfathomable,
faraway land.

My grief grows, like wound wool.
Dull. Full.

Swallows is © Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Recovery Room, Maternity Ward

(for Savita Halappanavar)

The procedure complete,
I awaken
alone, weak beneath starched sheets.
As the hospital sleeps, my fingers fumble
over the sutured scar, a jagged map
of mourning stitched into my skin —
empty without and empty within.
Beyond these white curtains,
stars shine bright as Diwali
in a cold night sky.
Someday, within these walls,
I will hear my baby cry.
Cradling my hollowed womb,
I trace this new wound and weep.
The only sound I hear now is the fading retreat
of a doctor’s footsteps, echoing my heartbeat.

Recovery Room, Maternity Ward is © Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Rusted Relic

Drifts of dust muffle the old typewriter’s surface
each dead key is encrusted with rust—
a forgotten Gaelic font
of blurred syllables and bygone symbols.
Muted music. Smothered percussion.

 Rusted Relic is  © Doireann Ní Ghríofa

doireannDoireann Ní Ghríofa’s poems have appeared in literary journals in Ireland and internationally. Her Irish language collections Résheoid and Dúlasair are both published by Coiscéim. The Arts Council of Ireland has twice awarded her literature bursaries (2011 and 2013). In 2012, she was a winner of Wigtown Gaelic poetry contest— the Scottish National Poetry Prize. Her short collection of poems in English Ouroboros was recently longlisted for The Venture Award (UK).

In Damage Seasons by Michael McAloran

‘Clear the air! Clean the sky! Wash the wind!
Take the stone from the stone,
take the skin from the arm, take the muscle from
the bone, and wash them.
Wash the stone, wash the bone, wash the brain,
wash the soul, wash them wash them!’
The Chorus , from Murder In The Cathedral by T.S Eliot.
(we convulse in sun light there are skins to trace and there is flesh to caress in some sudden dawning where the sudden shakes the boundary’s clasp….)

Scene Forty Two, In Damage Seasons

 The structure underpinning Michael McAloran’s In Damage Seasons is Palladian (a.b.a) or a quasi-triptych. It isn’t however an altar-piece or a pleasure-dome of a book. The parts of the triptych structure are: Onset, In Damage Seasons, and nothing’s bones-. The thematic thrust of the book which fully comprises 130 pages interspersed with kaleidoscope images, is barely contained in the second section eponymously titled and consisting of fifty individual scenes. Onset opens the book setting the myriad kaleidoscope theme, and nothing’s bones-  the third part of the work, is a paean. It forms an accumulation and gathering of the essence of the book. It is a beautifully written after-death, where life is the exilic condition.
Make no mistake, the doors of the triptych: Onset and nothing’s bones-, barely enclose the mid-section of the book and do not make for a sense of containment let alone comfort. Their purpose is to iterate the wolf howl of loss and an uncompromising poetic-voice that sometimes feels oxygenless. The book encloses this disembodied voice that has deranged from its centre and meaning. In visual terms the book is the raw howl of a lost generation. McAloran is too consummately skilled  in his image making to drop his theme (the howl) and he works it with a fine acuity:
‘sing spun alone till dry of speech the asking of the
prayers from the hollow entity unto some foreign grace
 traceless depth will in end no end in depth sing spun
alone till speech evaporated’
from nothing’s bones-
The dystopian landscape and setting of In Damage Seasons is dense with image and requires the reader’s full concentration. Here the wusses may leave, it is not for you. Onset and nothing’s bones- form the closable field of the overall triptych that is In Damage Seasons. They are as splattered with blood, torn nails, ejaculate and shit as the Hieronymus Bosch nightmare mid-section of the book:
‘an amber nocturne and the force of blue stun a
silhouette a shadowing a trail of dead words scattered
behind in retrospect of hollow oblivion’s benign claim I
 or we/eye dead of yet but once heart meat heart less…’
Scene Twenty Five (is dead meat heart…) 
 The walls of the cylinder form occur throughout In Damage Seasons. The cylinder, of polished metal-sides, with an interesting kaleidoscopic window detail. Sylvia Plath often described the rarefied air of her bell-jar, and her reader knows that its breach involved the fatal-wounding of her panic-bird. She described her artifice, her work, as the blood-jet of poetry. In McAloran’s case its blood-jet, ejaculate, tearing, bruising, incision and excreta. It is loss, torture, violence and pain:
the blood comes to the fore and there is nothing.…’
 Colours inherent in the book are amber and blue, a streak of red, and shades of metallic. One minute the writer is imprisoned in the doom of the non-working affair, the next he is shattering the funnel against a stone-wall and walking through the shardings of glass barely observing the beauty he made. It is meant to wound his feet, his hands and his body. We read rupture, derangement of form and the screaming voice:
‘kicking convulsive in the reek asking of the breaking
night’s dissemble through the cortex mirror a sheen of
 black iris flowerings a kaleidoscope of burning
carousels spun alone reaching for none…
 the blade asks of the final wind the death inhaled the
caress of some vital wound ask of till subtle bound
some stasis somewhere other than sung aloud in glint
of darkness…’  Scene Forty Two (is stillness to brace…)
 There is no piety to the howling of the poet. There is a type of tenderness and wry acceptance which could not be called compromise in any way, shape or fashion. This is strong and assured work. It is unrelenting for the reader:
 ….here and there the blind terse the fettering of all spun
till head of till spire of spine recorded as if to un-know
hence laughter cracks the ice like some obscene
 symphonium trace of desire still the living clot in the
eye the tongue torn out silenced of all …
ah break the bones of it there’ll yet be asked of till
splendour held in mockery of stun shards of bone and
foreign silences child’s toy fragments the walls peeling
in the artificial light…
from Onset, 5-
 The sense, or aftertaste of a book gives it its meaning. I tend to leave down a McAloran book with a sense of altered-reality. To me that is the meat of the poetic work, and it is often absent from the canon due to a mistaken sense that poetry should lack violence, or maybe it should do something pretty. Like adorn the margins of a chocolate-box culture bent into its own restless consumption.
 If your taste runs to Bataillesque, then this is the meat for you. In Damage Seasons is post-apocalyptic with a hint of tender. The apocalypse inherent in the book’s imagery is of body and of mind. It contains the reality of violence worked on the body and told through the disembodied mouth in the brilliantly written nothing’s bones-
529303_526490027394180_1927032004_nIn Damage Seasons by Michael McAloran is Published by Oneiros Books In 2013.

“Marriage Advice, 1951” and “Waiting” by Mary O’Donnell

Marriage Advice, 1951

Glossy women made her tremble,
every word shiny and sure,
we’re going to give Jenny a make-over,
Jen, the decaying building,
the clueless relic.
They made her sweat, even more,
those women with Dior skirts
and nipped-in waists, who warned
the night before the wedding
about being prepared.
But it was 1951. Next day,
she tried not to faint at the altar
although the neighbours whispered,
later forced herself to stuff
some morsel of the wedding breakfast
through her lips, like bad language
or something a woman never did
masticate, masticate, chew, chew, swallow,
the fist of the still-hidden child
walloping her gorge as the best man rose,
twinkle-eyed, yellow card in hand,
a twist of jokes she’d be bound to appreciate.
Marriage Advice, 1951 is © Mary O’Donnell




It has grown, not darkly, like mould, that sunless green. Sitting
provides the habit of air. Children – trees, coats, limbs,
the bounce of long hair as they troop the school road –

means stillness, expansion, despite unspeakable radio news
on the murder of infants in temperate suburbs. Muffled, gloved,
I grow in a car at the end of an eight-year planting, half of me

mulling the latest distant shooting. I would like to book a flight,
transplant skills, solutions, get there fast. Instead, I wait, the smell
of cooked dinner impregnating denims, boots, my cap, which she

inhales as she steps inside the car. I hold myself together
beneath iced winter branches in grey couteur, feel an invisible
frieze of buds stirring slowly, steady in deep cold.


Waiting is © Mary O’Donnell

Mary O' Donnell
Mary O’ Donnell

Mary O’Donnell is the author of eleven books, both poetry and fiction, and has also co-edited a book of translations from the Galician. Her titles include the best-selling literary novel “The Light-Makers”, “Virgin and the Boy”, and “The Elysium Testament”, as well as poetry such as “The Place of Miracles”, “Unlegendary Heroes”, and her most recent critically acclaimed sixth collection “The Ark Builders” (Arc Publications UK, 2009). She has been a teacher and has worked intermittently in journalism, especially theatre criticism. Her essays on contemporary literary issues are widely published. She also presented and scripted three series of poetry programmes for the national broadcaster RTE Radio, including a successful series on poetry in translation during 2005 and 2006 called ‘Crossing the Lines‘. Today, she teaches creative writing in a part time capacity at NUI Maynooth, and has worked on the faculty of Carlow University Pittsburgh’s MFA programme in creative writing, as well as on the faculty of the University of Iowa’s summer writing programme at Trinity College Dublin.

‘Veracity and Other Stories’ poems by Sarah Clancy

Thanks For Nothing Hippies, 2012
Thanks For Nothing Hippies, 2012. Sarah Clancy

The following two poems are by Sarah Clancy  from a forthcoming collection of prose and poetry, called Friction.

Veracity and other stories

for Alice Kennelly
I’ve lived in four different decades today
stepped onto three continents
I took no visas no tickets no passports
I wrote my own bill of passage I forged it
and what of my fraud if it served us?
I inhabited flesh that wasn’t my own
I scratched it kneaded stiff shoulders
with hands that emerged from some other wrists
some forearms some oxters then I left it
I walked from it and encountered new bones
new ligaments new eyes with which I saw
what I wanted I decided you were an abstraction
so I tried to walk through you but couldn’t
I put my palm on your chest but it met
with resistance I got caught in your substance
then fuck it I lied about it said you meant nothing
that your whole existence was a blip a pot-hole
that no-one was fixing and I burst a tyre or might have
I buckled my wheel rims in it didn’t I?
but then I gunned it and drove on
I read my old diaries as page turners with no idea
what might happen from one page to the next
I took guesses blind stabs at historic events
to see if it seemed like they’d happened me
then whatever I remembered what I wanted
even if I had to invent it I swore it as fact
rose to my feet to defend it
it was my truth in that moment and there wasn’t
a chance I’d let it be rebutted and as a result
I found myself heartless my past cast off
all reinvented and I liked it I was made light by it
and as to the future all those futures I’m writing
I’m telling you I’ll inhabit several actions at once
and believe what I want
I’ll pay no dues to this fiction
this tyrant
this actual bastard
I’m over it.
©Sarah Clancy January 2013

I met the take-it back man down in the shopping centre
where he was soap boxing, waxing lyrical and I drank his potion.
It was said that it could cure the worst of all the words
you’d ever spewed out in fury or in disappointment
and if a cure was beyond the bounds of either language or elixirs
it could reclaim the offending utterances and put them in storage
so long as you swallowed and didn’t spit that is. It could make
happenstances fall from their standing, go over old ground
and make it new sown, it could undo the damage sharp tongues
had inflicted on the unsuspecting, the suspicious and the blameless.
It could pale the blushes from stupid outbursts, cool them
before they ever hit your cheekbones – if that is you took
just two small mouthfuls and vowed to stay quiet for the duration
of its troubled ingestion. It could banish shame before it ever
caught your tonsils and traipsed its way down your resistant gullet
I know it sounds far-fetched but I for one swallowed it.
©Sarah Clancy November 2012