I remain fairly ambivalent on the use of images with poetry. William Blake did this impeccably, for now every time I read The Sick Rose, my mind conjures the artwork that comes with it – the twisted and corrupt image of a bed of roses. On the other end of the spectrum you have insta-poets, with images to accompany their poetry, since they are posting on such a visual medium like Instagram. I swear I am not trying to be a lit snob, but my main gripe with these pieces is that the images or sketches don’t really add anything to the words they accompany – merely there for some aesthetic, symmetrically pleasing purpose.
This isn’t the case for Sean Lìonadh’s poetry, where the images add another layer to the existing ones that exist in his words. Placement is also intentional, where after reading “House Of Prayer” I casually flip the page to receive an image of the sin bingo the persona and his best friend played while sitting in church, with boxes marked to indicate the sin committed. It is a striking thing to behold, with some crosses bigger than others, and one particular box holding more markings than the rest – suddenly the message of the poem becomes startlingly clear.
The collection is split into four parts – Losing, Lost, Finding, Found. In a lot of modern collections, the poems usually don’t reflect their thematic guides, haphazardly thrown together without any reflection of structure. Lìonadh’s collection is different, and I know I am starting to sound like a broken record, but it is so refreshing to see a collection put together with thought and purpose. The Lost segment begins with a poem about a lost child before arriving at the observation of the careless and callous treatment the child receives from humanity. The fact that the child was taken and no one was vigilant enough to notice, the lament that the child’s disappearance devolves into sensationalism and mere social media platitudes that mean nothing. Lìonadh forces us to contemplate what we have become as a society, to chart what has been lost.
There is such finesse to how he crafts his poems, easing words into their intricate positions, creating such complexity of thought from the simplest of images. In his poem “Signs”, the persona laments the need to ascribe meaning to everything – a human compulsion. The use of parenthesis reflecting the secret thoughts we keep to ourselves in our reading of signs. He then brings all these signs together in the last stanza to conclude that it all means nothing, that signs are merely the outcome of actions and choices, and sometimes even mere coincidence.
While I prefer the earlier segments of Lost and Losing, this is mainly because pain and brokenness requires more complexity in its construction and hums with a poignant intensity. The happiness of being found is simpler in comparison, with poems such as “Phone call”, a poem of merely two lines that establishes the absence of happiness in the persona’s life, so much so that even his mother cannot identify it when it is attached to his person.
We begin the collection with loss and hopelessness, wondering if the persona will ever find his way out of the darkness. The answer isn’t as clear cut as one might desire, for there is “teaching” that still needs to take place, but there is satisfaction in knowing “the light still hums along from the lamp”.
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Not Normal Anymore is a collection that is structurally coherent and very purposefully put together. The use of images to accompany the poems within also adds to a very rich and compelling reading experience.
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