Blood Oranges by Dylan Brennan
The Dreadful Press, Ireland, 2014
13 Euros - 64 Pages
Poetry Review by Pippa Little
Published in issue 39 of The Ofi Press
This book is a cornucopia of sights, sounds, scents and colours. Bravura poems invoke that assault on the senses any time spent in Mexico makes inevitable. Exuberant yet poised, Blood Oranges spans centuries of Mexican history with a flourish and ranges across a dazzling variety of figures and tropes – from La Llorona the Weeping Woman, the mutilated Danzantes, Cortes’ conquistadores, ancient goddesses and gods, the tree hung with plastic dolls along the canals of Xochimilco, down to contemporary killings on a Mexican street and finally, on a grand swerve, Howth in Dublin and the atoll of Clipperton off Mexico’s Pacific coast.
It is an ambitious collection in form as well as scope. I was drawn to the more experimental ‘Tlatelolco Triptych’ which has its middle section almost completely redacted. I also enjoyed the sonnets and prose poems, however, and enjoyed Brennan’s evident love for language and capacity to create strange worlds with his words, dark and menacing and at the same time full of vitality and power. He is very good at evoking the physical, as in the poem ‘The Consul’s Question’, haunted by the spectre of Malcolm Lowry, where he describes the first mescal of the morning as “pungent dark urine – treacle/fossilising in a cylinder, hardening/medicinal amber”. This visceral, muscular take on language hits an easier note in ‘Sea of Steinbeck’ and in the poem about eating mangoes with a lover. Yet it is violence which forms the carved-out but still beating human heart of this collection. The poet looks at violence as integral to the life-force of this unknowable and beguiling world in which he finds himself. A most fascinating and assured first collection which deserves re-reading, for like the unexcavated pyramids his work is rich with layers and interwoven meanings.