July 27, 2008

Review by Marcus Smith

by Moira Linehan

Southern Illinois University Press
Crab Orchard Series
1915 University Press Drive
SIUC Mail Code 6806
Carbondale, IL 62902-6806
ISBN: 0-8093-2761-9
2007, 80pp., paper, $14.95

Moira Linehan begins her debut collection, If No Moon, with a telling passage from Seamus Heaney’s “To a Dutch Potter in Ireland”:

To have lived it through and now be free to give
Utterance, body and soul–to wake and know
Every time that it’s gone and gone for good, the thing
That nearly broke you–

We sense before the first poem the book’s general trajectory and outcome–the poet will survive and transcend something painful. This is like knowing the plot of a play and watching it for the how not the what of its stagecraft. The what here–Linehan’s husband’s gradual death from cancer–we quickly learn, and as for the how, the poems keep mostly to a plain, sober course of grief and mourning. Along the way one can respect the depth of feeling presented, but frequently miss mystery, a feeling that often elevates competent poetry to excellent poetry.

This is not to say that Linehan isn’t very capable of raising her level above the literal and descriptive. Somewhat deceptive, in fact, in terms of the whole book, is the long opening poem “Quarry,” which does establish a tone of the unsayable that poetry has always depended upon for emotional depth. For instance, in this observed narrative about a body missing at the bottom of a quarry reservoir, the quarry serves as a symbol of personal uncertainty. While the speaker wants to “see this story/settled,” she knows that her own current history is deeply confused:

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