back toJacket2

This piece is about 3 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Sarah Linke and Jacket magazine 2009. See our [»»] Copyright notice.
The Internet address of this page is


Pat Boran
New and Selected Poems
reviewed by
Sarah Linke
228pp. Dedalus Press. Paper. $30. 9781904556848/Paper,
Clothbound. $50. 9781904556831
For further details, audio samples of this and other titles, and to order direct from the publisher, please see


New and Selected Poems (Salt Publishing), the recent offering from Irish poet Pat Boran, draws on his four previous collections — The Unwound Clock (1990), Familiar Things (1993), The Shape of Water (1996) and As The Hand, The Glove (2001) – as well as work from his chapbook History and Promise (1990) and several new and previously uncollected poems.

Section 2

Pat Boran is an elegant poet. He writes simply and without embellishment; his poetry is as stark as a newly painted room. This quality is evident from the first poem in his collection, ‘House’:


Water clanks from the tap
like a chain – a lifetime

since anything has moved here
but rats and birds.


Boran’s poetry is made up of short vignettes based on topics as far ranging as love, loss, philosophy, religion, science and small town life.


His poetry is simple and sparse in nature, effortlessly descriptive without excessive embellishment, eloquent, evocative and unadorned. He eschews superfluous trimmings, preferring an almost austere brevity and pared-down simplicity to his poems. His innate understanding of language and vocabulary grace his poetry with a subtle resonance; his poetry is restrained and tautly written.


The frequently concise lengths of his poems enhance the quality of structure and prevent quantity from overwhelming each piece. With this anthology, Boran has produced a stark and vividly memorable collection of poetry.


Much of Boran’s poetry is based on his upbringing in rural Ireland – the small town of Portlaoise is uncovered several times in this collection. His poetry is comprised of short narratives, offering the reader brief snapshots of everyday life and drawing a broad and detailed picture of the town and its inhabitants, skilfully creating a world immediately recognisable to any reader.


His characters are vividly drawn; he writes of his own family, friends and neighbours, but our own acquaintances could easily slip into these roles. This relatability lends his poetry an immediacy and creates an instant connection with the reader. Boran writes of brothers, butchers, mothers, and a ‘Widow, Shopping In Portlaoise’:


She parked her black Raleigh
outside Whelan’s butchershop
and bought her brother his chop.


Such adjectival omissions are typical of Boran when writing about small town life. The lack of descriptive detail emphasises the mundane nature of the widow’s life. The characters are sometimes lively and sometimes sombre, but their lives are always trivial and unimportant, which Boran subtly indicates through his selective use of vocabulary and delicate understatement.


The series of poems set in Portlaoise allows the reader a voyeuristic glimpse into Boran’s past, but also highlights our own simple lives and acknowledges the ordinary beauty of typically mundane everyday tasks.


Although small town life is a prime focus of Boran’s poetry, he deftly examines a wide range of topics, regularly exploring beyond his own doorstep to examine diverse themes central to our everyday lives.


Boran’s style is deceptively simple; seemingly devoid of expression, but containing a layered depth, which occasionally proves elusive to grasp upon first reading. This is aptly demonstrated in ‘The Raising of Lazarus’:


The kitchen was a bombsite
the night my father found the corpse
of our neighbour Paddy Walsh
spread across the floor like
a misfired human cannonball.


This vignette is typical of Boran’s poetry – an ostensibly straightforward story retelling with minimal use of flagrant adjectives – but a closer examination reveals a veiled depth; despite the deliberate lack of illustration, the reader is easily able to visualise not only the broader scene, but minute imagined details specific to their minds only.


Boran himself recognises this trait: “The sound of the poem is really important, and for me there is nearly always one image – and I mean an image – something you can see that connects to everything else in the poem — literally every noun, every object, every adjective, every adverb. If that doesn’t happen, then the poem is not successful.” [1]


You can almost imagine this story must be based on true events; a real-life occurrence that has taken on folktale-like proportions over the years, regurgitated by his father at regular intervals in front of relatives who have heard the tale one too many times after their brother and uncle had one too many beers. A story that has taken on a life of its own, always beginning with the same question: “Tell me, do you remember ol’ Paddy Walsh?”


As a student, Boran was initially attracted to “simple” [2] poetry, which was “stripped of architecture” [3]. He responded to these poems viscerally, “as if they were song lyrics” [4], and his own poetry has followed a similar course.


Boran excels in evoking a sense of time and place without overburdening his poetry with excessive flourishes. His poetry regularly offers the reader a brief glimpse of a scene before being suddenly snatched away and his stark and vivid images are rapidly absorbed.


Boran appreciates the beauty of simplicity; he possesses an implicit understanding of his craft. His poetry is literature stripped bare, which is readily accessible to a wide audience.


Boran’s inherent understanding of language cannot be underestimated; he possesses a priceless quality for a poet – an innate understanding of when to cease revising and allow a piece to simply be. Boran himself acknowledges this quality: “Someday the poem just clicks. There is a moment when it hits” [5].


New and Selected Poems is a well-earned salute to a hard-working and exceptionally talented poet, whose work has long been underappreciated by a wide audience. Pat Boran is a highly respected poet who is greatly admired by his peers, having served his time as an editor, reviewer, festival programmer and workshop director. This anthology is a tribute to a much-deserving writer and offers him the credit his fine poetry warrants.


 [1] Meade, D. 2002. ‘Pat Boran’. The Stinging Fly 1 (12)

 [2] Meade, D. 2002. ‘Pat Boran’. The Stinging Fly 1 (12)

 [3] Meade, D. 2002. ‘Pat Boran’. The Stinging Fly 1 (12)

 [4] Meade, D. 2002. ‘Pat Boran’. The Stinging Fly 1 (12)

 [5] Meade, D. 2002. ‘Pat Boran’. The Stinging Fly 1 (12)

Link to referenced material:

Sarah Linke

Sarah Linke

Sarah Linke is a secondary school English and Literature teacher. She currently resides in western Victoria.

Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all material in Jacket magazine is copyright © Jacket magazine and the individual authors and copyright owners 1997–2010; it is made available here without charge for personal use only, and it may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.