Poguemahone by Patrick McCabe, published by Biblioasis Books, isn’t your average book. Then again McCabe has never been your average writer. After all this is the guy who wrote Breakfast on Pluto and The Butcher’s Boy. So you know when you crack the covers of this one you’ll be in for quite the ride.
What you might not have been expecting was an epic free verse poem. Winding and looping through the past and present of a brother and sister, the poem travels at full speed taking us on a mad and lyrical journey. The present being a nursing home where Una lives out her days in a haze of Alzheimer’s and bursts of outrage at slights that may or may not have happened during the day, isn’t what anybody would call pleasant.
Her brother, who narrates the tale, is her voice and her memories. Although he tells their story from his perspective, he paints her life, and his, in as much detail, and with as much accuracy, as possible. Sure it’s a rollicking story, and it careens around like a run away roller coaster on occasion, but the images and impressions created by the stream of verse leave more of a mark on readers’ thoughts than any prose could hope.
So you’ve probably gathered this isn’t your typical piece of epic poetry. McCabes’s language isn’t what anyone would call poetic by any stretch – or at least in the traditional sense. No flowery metaphors or delicate imagery. No, this is the poetry of the working class pub, the back alley, and rock and roll.
I mean how many poems do you know that rhapsodize about Ian Hunter and Mott The Hoople playing David Bowie’s “All The Young Dudes”? But that was the background music to our protagonist’s lives. So its strains are going to be heard in their memories.
However, the cascade of words which McCabe uses to tell the story is poetry. They stream across the page in a lovely waterfall of emotion and ideas creating vivid pictures in our minds. Even more impressive is how he is able to bring locations to life complete with scents and sounds. We are immersed in each of the locations he brings us too to the extent we can smell the spilled beer and hear the rumble of the bad plumbing.
Poguemahone by Patrick McCabe is a wondrous story. McCabe does the amazing balancing act of marrying form with content to tell us the moving and ribald tale of a brother and sister. An epic poem that will never make you think of Homer or Virgil, but might occasionally make you think of any bar room poet you might have known over the years.