Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. 2013. 224 pages.
Reviewed by Joshua Jones
An Irish poet—especially one from the North—can languish under the pressures of her predecessors like Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, and Eavan Boland. But Sinead Morrissey’s selected poems, Parallax, opens a new gap for Irish poets to occupy. She moves beyond many of the “traditionally” Irish questions of essentializing local identity to explore history and globalization, often through the contemporary experience of motherhood.
The collection’s title is apt. As Morrissey reminds us at the beginning of the final section of the book, a Parallax is an “Apparent displacement, or difference in the apparent position, of an object, caused by change… of position of the point of observation.” The use of this term suggests that we keep James Joyce’s Ulysses in mind as we read, but Morrissey departs from other Irish poets like Heaney or McGovern who treat Joyce directly. We only see Joyce in a parallax of sorts; Morrissey gives the reader glimpses of him never as the traditional image of the Dubliner with the eyepatch but in the faces of people populating the various urban landscapes she explores. Without any hint of “Bloomian” anxieties, Morrissey hops from speaker to speaker, location to location, and form to form in ways that reflect the multivalent and globalized world that poetry must face today.
Morrissey knows that a book of selected poems presents challenges. In “Reading the Greats,” she asks herself,
Is it for their failures that I love them?
Ignoring the regulation of Selected Poems,
with everything in that should be in–
all belted & buttoned & shining–
I opt instead for omnivorous Completes.
She acknowledges that any selection she makes of her work compromises her particularity as a poet, but the image of a “Selected Poems” as “belted & and buttoned & shining” suits the book. While the narrative arcs of the first three collections in Parallax have been diminished to a degree by her cuts, she chooses poems that highlight the strength of the wh