Originally published in John F. Deane’s Poetry Workshop in the Irish Independent, February 1980.
GALLERY PRESS has recently published A Drink of Spring, a collection of poems by John Ennis, selling at £1.80 paper and £3.60 bound. This is Ennis’s third collection; Night on Hibernia appeared in 1976 and Dolmen Hill in 1977. John Ennis is a winner of several awards, notable the Kavanagh Award in 1975, and he regularly takes the stand as prizewinner in the Listowel Writers’ Week poetry competition.
For me, A Drink of Spring is a great step forward in Ennis’s work. In this book the often jerky and incomplete phrasings of earlier work give way to an easier voice, closer to the living voice; there is flow and poise rather staccato blows. Further, some of the very long lines of the earlier work cease sliding over the ends of the pages and are brought to more manageable proportions, though Ennis remains one of the longest puckers in the game; the overlong line tends to lose rhythm and unity.
I have always been somewhat alienated by our friends the Greek gods whom Ennis fond of calling in; ‘Orpheus’ in the collection Dolmen Hill is a big, fat poem which, though relieved by much humour, gets lost for me in an indulgence in the opulence of language and imagery the Greek lads are inclined to bring with them.
Influences, too, are more absorbed in A Drink of Spring; Kavanagh’s sense of the mythic in country patterns of life, the linguistic flair and the sensuousness of Hopkins, the sharp- eyed, whimsical and architectural skills of Austin Clarke. The adjective still play a vital role in Ennis’s work, but there is less chaining of them together into a forced labour.
A Drink of Spring, as well as containing poems individually and highly organised in a unity of mood and image develops Ennis’s unique skills as a poem- builder, sequence0 builder, into such a unified achievement as this book, which becomes, indeed, almost one long poem in parts. The collection is altogether concerned with the death of the poet’s father and contains one of the fullest accounts of a relationship between father and son that I have read.
The poems move through three distinct cycles which come across as ordered at the ceremonies of Holy Week are ordered into Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Resurrection Vigil. The concerns of the book do, in fact, relate to these three days in a thematic way, also; there is the recollection of the sharing of a life in all its fulness, its rites, it resitancies; follows the death, very fully described, of a death; and moves into the hesitant and questioning area of the waiting for resurrection.
This awareness of meaning combines with much that is very Irish in poetry, the relation of incident and detail, allowing sense of scene and mood to build up a response in the reader. In this book, scene and mood are very successfully detailed; there is precision of atmosphere and detail; all of this producing a great deal of individual poems that are fairly successful in themselves, but culminating in a very powerful overall effect. The only danger in this type of collection is a tendency to dissipate the urgency of the emotions, the rhythm of the unifying theme, in other words, the danger of losing the wood for the trees.
There are, I suspect, several embryonic themes through the sequence that will be developed in later work, above all the personal experience and conflict of entering and leaving the priesthood and seminary. The individual details of quotation and analysis I leave to the reviews; this collection has excited me in its overall effect and I would heartily recommend it as unique in the long series of collection of poems that have appeared in the last years.
Words: John F. Deane