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Review: Adam O'Riordan's queen of the cotton cities

Edited by Roddy Lumsden, and tall-lighthouse press’s Pilot series is an exciting, enterprising and much-needed addition to the world of poetry publishing: showcasing the work of eighteen up-and-coming and wonderfully varied poets, all under the age of thirty. Adam O’Riordan is one of the first to receive the Pilot treatment, and his wonderful pamphlet showcases the fruition of his years studying under both Andrew Motion and the late great Michael Donaghy.

The first thing you notice in reading this selection of O’Riordan’s work is the sheer ambition and range of his subject matter. Opener ‘Trawling’ takes the sweeping birds eye view of Larkin’s ‘Here’ to the zooming precision of the ‘Google Earth’ level: encompassing the ‘satellite / as it travels in Trappist silence’ through to a coffee cup ‘slid[ing] along the galley’ of a ‘lonely trawler’; ‘the smell of spilt diesel, fish guts, / blood and brine, gravity in flux’. The off-kilter half rhyme here is perfectly executed: the reader gets a real sense of the boat in motion, wobbling and struggling its way out of the harbour.

Elsewhere, and the unfortunately titled ‘NGC3949’ disguises a brilliant poem that takes this galaxy of uninspired name, one which lies in Ursa Major and whose formation mirrors that of our own, as a point from which to explore the effect that love, and lost love, have in deceiving our senses. ‘Years down the line’, the poet tells us, ‘you swear blind / the cut and sway of a dark form is her’, only to scatter the rich images of the poem with a punchy ending: ‘Not her – or your idea of her – and never will be. / It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is.’ The effect is one reminiscent of Donaghy’s tendency towards the revelatory final line, but O’Riordan’s poem shows a certain uniqueness that steers it clear of plain imitation.

Besides, much of O’Riordan’s other poems display a distinctive voice and perspective all of their own. ‘Heels’ is a brilliant poem, exploring that which sets the ‘iron wire’ of a girl’s ‘Achilles tendon aching’, and is worth reading if only to see a young male writer skilfully handle such a distinctly feminine subject. Other highlights include the pitch-perfect ‘Chicago’ and the richly descriptive ‘Cheat’, all making the lasting impression, in this convincing selection of only sixteen poems, of a poet of mature skill and winning intelligence. His first collection will be worth waiting for.

Adam O'Riordan, queen of the cotton cities. tall-lighthouse, ISBN 978 1 904551 33 1, £4 (to buy a copy, email, or visit the website as listed above).