JULY 2, 2014 5:22AM

Review: The Goose Tree by Moyra Donaldson

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Moyra Donaldson

The Goose Tree

Liberties Press 2014

54 pages

Cover design by Karen Vaughan

Carry tiger and return to mountain

to grasp sparrow’s tail,

to repulse monkey.

Slant flying to apparent closure,

wild dog retaliates,

the scissors cut the silk.

from from T’ai Chi and HIV in 1983 by Moyra Donaldson



Moyra Donaldson is an assured poet. There is a sense of deep practice and integrated expression in The Goose Tree which speaks her authority both as poet and practitioner of symbol.  
Donaldson delights in her ability to connect with her reader at intimate and imaginative levels. She allows the reader to recognise themes of loss, of delight and of empathy through the heart of the child who is the treasure hoarder of personal history;  at once the nascent poet/the fully fledged and open throated poet.

Poems are not passive things and require an attentive reader, in The Goose Tree the reader’s dividends are excellent, one can place oneself into the hands of a writer’s writer,


Where the road branched
I’d hold my father’s hand
tilt back
to watch the tall trees
swapping sky-nests,
the flapping cawing
big black birds:
dizzying, feathering unease.

There is a  sure delight in the naming of things that skips lightly on the tongue evident in the eponymous poem of the collection and rehearsed in Nature Study,

Miss Walker taught us the names for things:
cobb, penn and cygnet, dray, sett, vixen,
leveret, vetch, ox-slip, nimbus. Words that stuck
like robin-run-the-hedge on a school cardigan.
She taught us how to recognise leaves by shape,
oval elm, fingered chestnut, coastline of oak.

from Nature Study by Moyra Donaldson

The naming of things is of great importance to the poet who would share Plath’s love of the thinginess of things. The object becomes both anchor and expositor in the body of the poem,


I don’t ask for much; so if you love me,
bring me hand-stitched gloves
of softest kidskin,

so fine that they can be folded
to fit inside a walnut shell.
they should smell of damask roses

Token by Moyra Donaldson

The passage of time and the intimacy of memory is dealt with from the second poem of the book, To the Current Occupants of My Parents' House

Here Donaldson explores the physical and psychical reality of a leaving and how habit and  the physical body can pick up and imprint it’s meaning in the altered geography of once intimate spaces, in this instance the sale of the family home. There is no need for ghosts when the living may visit and revisit a familiar place,

I need no key, no invitation; whether
you are in or out, I come and go

as I please and even in the dark
I intimately know my way

from room  to room, with all 
the secret spaces in between

Moyra Donaldson’s work binds together close observation of nature, indeed an almost microscopic awareness of beauty with a love of mythos and the tale. 
I was very taken with the eponymous poem of this collection in its visualism and rendering. The poem sits at the centre of the collection and deserves the reader’s attention. I have decided not to extract it here, but I may ask the poet for a loan of it for the Poethead Index, it is perfectly visual and beautifully written.

The Goose Tree is a gem of a book, lit with beautiful writing and the sure authority of a writer’s writer. The Donaldson reader is in for a treat, be they a new reader or a fan already.

"Poetry is a principle of power invoked by all of us against our vanishing."-Allen Grossman (1932 - 2014)

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Moyra Donaldson was born and brought up in Co Down and has been described as one of the country’s most distinctive and accomplished writers. She has published four previous collections, Snakeskin Stilettos (1998), Beneath The Ice (2001),The Horse’s Nest (2006) and Miracle Fruit (2010). Her poetry has won a number of awards, including the Allingham Award, the National Women’s Poetry Competition and the Cuirt New Writing Award. She has received four awards from the Arts Council NI, most recently, the Artist Career Enhancement Award. (from Liberties Press)


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Any serious review of poetry such as this is worthy of respect. In the end, it takes a poet to know a poet, and some of us have it in our marrow.
Thank you Ben Sen, I can be a bit purist there. The thrust of the blogs and reviews echo your sentiment. I think that recognition and appreciation are key to writing about poetry. I found that many women poets are not reviewed or cited adequately and founded the blogs to redress that. I love doing it and have done quite a few by now.
I only review material myself that I think is under-represented. I have two reviews of Cavafy on my blog that may interest you, and some of my work. Poets can be incredibly fickle--and competitive. You can tell the ones who aren't by their reviews.
Thanks Ben Sen , here the problem is that news media have blurred the lines between arts and entertainment, our cultural pages are top-heavy with inanity and frankly its bullshit. I suppose I wanted to redress, as I said earlier. I will take a look at your blog. Most of my reading is now of blogs, indy sites, UBUWEB, Jacket2 and places dedicated to the arts. I find media boring and agenda driven. YAWN