“Gaps in the whitethorns admit me to this once and once only sunset,” Patrick Deeley tells us, and we slip in behind him through his cherished branches to share a beloved and luminous world.  Without doubt Deeley is a man of the earth, happiest when he’s down in the details of nature, where clay and marl juices seep, and the one-minded school of minnow turn, ‘land aspiring to be water, water wanting to be land.’  He’s also a refreshing, wonderful, much-overlooked poet whose greatest offering is to stand humble and observant before the Irish landscape.  Deeley receives and records “the bonus of close-ups:/a furry face, a frittered acorn,/a loose feather gone/dithering airily onto another level,” but still he tells us we “must lean down further in.”  Through lucid, elegant lyrics he takes us deep down into the marrow of Ireland, generous both with its details and its expanses, no matter that “nature happens/too hugely for any containment.”
Deeley is content to disappear in his poems – “let the limelight be on fox/or badger answering to your stillness.”  He’s aware of his own limitations, and he knows how far he’s allowed to go before he becomes a trespasser in this resonant, spirit-laden country where “night is otherwise hushed/huge, full of potency that forbade.”
His work abounds with the inhabitants of this rural wetland, human and animal, but his depictions of characters are never laboured or nostalgic; rather his stanzas respectfully photograph and give dignity to those who have lived their days in a place where “all was/winter yesterday, was stone the day before.”
Deeley draws from the deep pool of Irish myth but doesn’t drown us in unfamiliar references or berate us with sentiment; instead his light touch reconnects us to the urgent, forgotten matter of the psyche.  Deeley knows this deep material is as threatened as his beloved landscape, “enlightenment/ as soon breaks on our minds,/burning superstition out, clearing swamps/of their legends. And we are certain /no secret’s held beyond explication.”
The poems mourn “the hearth-song/we will scarcely recognize/as having belonged to us”, and the ‘Bones of Creation’ open out beyond Deeley’s gorgeous descriptions of place to challenge the upheavals brought on by Ireland’s tremendous progress during the last decade – it’s a progress that in ‘Piecework’ Deeley lays bare when he asks of his former schoolmates,
maybe you’d as soon forget this land
forced to sump and mulch, its wet meadows
drained, its people moving out from
back field to main road, its menial undercoat
hidden, the long tunnels where the Polish
and Latvian women move, pale-skinned   
in semi-darkness, pushing through piecework
with their baskets of button mushrooms.
Though a number of Irish poets have written about the great changes in Ireland during the last ten to fifteen years, none have done it as beautifully, as potently as Deeley.  While so many contemporary-Ireland poems have been all knees and elbows in the face, angular and displaced, Deeley has assimilated the changes deep into his sense of lyrical order.  While some poets have fired back at us bullet words of what they see, “cement” and “developers” and “Celtic Tiger,” until we run for cover both from the changes and the words about the changes, Deeley has at a deep level, a bone level, made sense of Ireland’s extreme make-over.  He’s sewn its new challenges into his poems with the same subtlety and elegance he uses when, word by word, detail by detail, he builds a rock pool.
Deeley writes of Dublin, his new home, with the same attention that Michael Coady gives to Carrick-on-Suir, both poets honouring the unremarked, but while Coady focuses on the minute grammar of human action, Deeley diverges to look for the essential matter beneath it all.  He finds what he is looking for in things like
the trouble-boast of a rooster, flung
from a hollow heaped full of tyres
and junk metal.  There, with flames
blazoned on his breast, he raises himself,
rattles his wattles in defiance
of our convoyed progress.  And for
a moment I credit the earth is breaking
at my heels afresh, as a horse,
a rooster, a capercaillie – all fabulous,
indefatigable creatures restored.
Deeley always ends poems beautifully and satisfyingly; there’s no ghastly open-ended ambiguity to leave us unsettled and empty-handed.  If he wants to unsettle us, he doesn’t do it with tricks; he does it with ideas, always standing over his opinions, unapologetic for his emotional responses, always leaving us at the last line with a full harvest.
Like ‘The Badger on Orwell Bridge’, Deeley has come up from an older world, and though he might want to “haul between his forepaws/these parked cars, maul them into one/cacophonous, rending rejoinder/to the traffic that outside him flows,” he doesn’t.  Both badger and poet accept they must “fall in love with the slick pelt/of the road.”  They are both, after all, “gentle”.
For all his lyricism, Deeley stays grounded in reality.  Rather than remain with the pain of what he sees, he pushes deeper beneath it all to see darkness’ place in the scheme of things.  He does not allow himself – or us – to be ground down entirely – “there was no cure but raise/dust, let dust inform, dust inspire us.”  There is always some form of resolution supplied somewhere – most usually one supplied by nature.  For all his wisdom and talent, Deeley remains charmingly modest and self-effacing: “what does it matter if all was better said/and done before?  Now you are leased the wonder” he tells us.  And his sense of wonder – realistic, earth-bound wonder – rises again and again, so we can never forget that “life’s/a frittering minute, beauty/the breaking nature of everything.”  Ultimately the collection is well-named; Deeley has found the Bones of Creation.  He’s turned them in his hands, read their messages, and passed them on.  If you only buy one book of poetry this year, make it this one.  These are good, good poems; they don’t get much better than this.
© Patrick Deeley 2013. All rights reserved.