Fred Johnston’s review of Arboretum in Irish University Review

Originally published in Irish University Review Vol. 23, No. 1, Special Issue: Eavan Boland (Spring – Summer, 1993), pp. 162-164. Published by Edinburgh University Press



John Ennis’s long poem Arboretum was the poetry prizewinner at Listowel Writers’ Week two years ago. Ennis’s notable ability to blend aspects of history, place and commentary into a poetic whole in some senses makes him unique in Irish poetry. Trees figure strongly, as might suspect, in what turns out to be a tapestry of poetic interludes woven together; ennis seems intent on discovering the precise point at which trees “Sap our myths with their own complexities / Like old confessors taking in past dioxides…”. The poem is set, apparently, in the John F. Kennedy Park in Wexford, and this quasi- historical back- drop sets off the rest. Simplistically, trees inform most of what we do and experience in some form or other; trees have similarly informed and been witness to world history. The human condition assumes an arrogance which is particularly pitiful against the overwhelming presence of these absolutes of nature. As usual with Ennis’s poetry, the language is vital, direct and often startling. He is not a comforting poet.


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