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Aoife Lyall reviews Mícheál McCann's debut pamphlet, 'Safe Home'


Poet Mícheál McCann is photographed against a moss-green forest background. He is wearing a white shirt, a tan jacket, and he is looking off to the left, smiling warmly.
Mícheál McCann photographed by Michael O'Callaghan


Mícheál McCann’s debut pamphlet Safe Home is one that speaks to transition. Its title is a popular Irish salutation, one that acknowledges the precarious nature of a journey between two familiar places. In the pamphlet’s opening and only sequence, Études, McCann considers where his chosen path has led him with something of a wry musicality:


I


I’ll go to concerts in the Ulster Hall

a few times a year to see the violin soloists.

My friends think that

this is because I want to learn

fingerboard electric dashes of

the Shostakovich or the Barber

– nothing so heroic –

I go in the hope something goes

wrong.


Here McCann posits himself as the knowledgeable outsider: intrigued by what happens in the space between the practised and unprepared; unsettled by the indefinable leap from precision to perfection.


It is this liminality that defines Safe Home. In “Babel, just before; just after” he seeks to capture the disconcerting dynamic of a father-son relationship in full flux:


My voice

to him, the same indistinct rumble as his

through the sad veins of the house. Two voices

one low, one deepening:

hugging the walls, vibrating for help.


In “Man & Woman” he envies the ease of a couple’s relationship, one in which public displays of affection are not perceived as offensive, or some sort of a challenge:


No – this rage-fired view isn’t fair. I want this.

The theatre of half-missed kisses

in the pain of the grey hour outside the Europa.

Not anticipating the glimmer of fags.


Tired of living in a world that is still changing its mind, he longs to be in a relationship that is allowed to exist in transactional spaces: he is not searching for a hidden and singular, passionate and dispassionate, sexual encounter with a stranger, but rather the unacknowledged moments that mark the development of a genuine connection with another human being.


I want to reach around

the green circle (online now!)

that lets me know they’re the same as me:

awake […]


And then our hands can reach,

join in the middle somewhere

across this pitch-black Donegal landscape,

and we wouldn’t touch in the moonlight

(“Hook-up”)


Shortly after, in “Leaving London for Belfast” we get a sense of purpose: a clear, deliberate journey that harkens back to McCann’s midnight duets with the washing machine. Having determined his destination and chosen his path, he answers his own question, ‘could I learn this? This coping?’ (Études) by reaching under his seat for a life vest only to discover ‘I was wearing it all along.’


The pamphlet finishes with ‘Prayer’, a short poem speaking to the disparity between our corporeal lives and those which we cultivate online, a recognition that these technological shortcuts may reduce the distance between two things, but they don’t bring them any closer:


a phone’s black mirror

lets downcast eyes

see sheep-gutty clouds

in an August sky

in the glass

of a locked phone.

Turning upward

to the real thing

my eyes

are lit.


McCann considers these liminal spaces and relationships with gentle and persuasive sincerity. Like musical études, some of these poems demonstrate careful ordering and handling, while others would benefit from a little more attention. Where we have slán abhaile (‘safe home’) we also have tús maith leath na hoibre (‘A good start is half the work’). McCann’s pamphlet, then, can be said to be a good start, on what may well prove to be a long and prosperous journey.


***


Safe Home is published by Green Bottle Press and is available to purchase here.

 


Aoife Lyall (née Griffin) was born in Dublin in 1987. She earned her BA in English Studies from Trinity College Dublin, before reading her MPhil in Medieval Literature at St John’s, University of Cambridge, and gaining her PGDE (English) at the University of Aberdeen. Awarded an Emerging Scottish Writer residency by Cove Park in 2020 and twice shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Awards, her poems have also been shortlisted in the Wells Festival of Literature Open Poetry Competition and the Jane Martin Poetry Prize. She has worked as a guest curator for the Scottish Poetry Library and as a guest editor for Butcher’s Dog. Her reviews have appeared in PN Review and Poetry London. Her first poetry collection, Mother, Nature, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2021. Supported by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland, she is currently writing her second poetry collection. She lives and works in the Scottish Highlands with her family.

You can find her on both Twitter and Instagram.

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