Lilies on the Deathbed of Etain and Other Poems by Oisin Breen

Source: the poet
Paperback, 52 pgs.
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Lilies on the Deathbed of Etain and Other Poems by Oisin Breen catapults the Irish mythology of Étaín into a context that is both modern and from days of old. A maiden who is turned by a jealous first wife of Midir into a pool of water and some other objects, including a fly, before being reborn 1,000+ years later. Breen has clearly chosen this figure for the story of death and rebirth, as there is recurring imagery and sadness throughout regarding death, lingering ailments, and enduring love.

In the opening lines, he tell us, “All this ends with the hocking of soft skin in loose folds.” Death is never the same, “For each of us it differs,” he reminds us. And this can be true, especially when taking into account how we live. Have we been kind? Have we cared for family? Have we lusted? “But our death will come in a single reckoning,” he says. We often do not expect to die when we do. Our expiration is unknown to us, no matter how healthy we try to live or how much we turn to modern medicine and other tools to extend that expiration date.

When we come to the second section of the title poem we find that Étaín is traveling with a companion in a small chamber from which she can move in and out of freely. We can only imagine what it is to be her, so small, so trapped, but yet free. She has not returned to her true form, but she is still a companion. This situation is equal parts comforting and terrifying. But aren’t all relationships like this?

Breen is providing a journey in myth to illustrate the human condition as it stands now, even without our ability to utilize real magic and turn people into pools of water. We seek revenge and companionship in other ways, whether on the Internet or in bars, etc. But one of the most beautiful passages comes in the fourth section:

now think.

When you watch a candle - its balletic fire a torrent of seemingly 
unending heat, a sharp fixed point of gulped air - silence meets
a breathless rhapsody of death, and there are instants of
stillness: moments where the flame flickers out, then continues;
they backed by equal moments of surprising light, where blue
flickers - in milliseconds - venomously cohere,   then vanish - a
traceless soliloquy of continuance.

Lilies on the Deathbed of Etain and Other Poems by Oisin Breen breaks structure at just the right places, mixing in narration and white space, to create his own myth and point us to the finality of it all. In the end, he calls on poetry as song, a way for humanity to come together, to create its own song, teach and learn from it as never before. This is a journey that leaves you questioning, but also falling a little bit in love with the myth and its poetry.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Oisín Breen is a 37 year-old poet, part-time PhD candidate in narratological complexity at Edinburgh University, and financial journalist, covering the registered investment advisory space in the US. He has 209 poems published in 105 journals and anthologies in 20 countries, and across two collections.

Dublin born Breen’s second collection just launched this month, and is already gathering praise. Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín & Other Poems is a set of longer form works in an experimental ouevre. Breen’s critically aclaimed debut collection, Flowers, all sorts in blossom, figs, berries, and fruits, forgotten was released Mar. 2020 by Edinburgh’s Hybrid/Dreich Press.

You can find Breen on Twitter: @Breen, and on Mastodon: @[email protected].

Mailbox Monday #718

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Emma, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín and Other Poems by Oisin Breen for review.

“Oisin Breen is writing at a pitch few other poets of his generation can muster. The dynamism and control of register, rhetoric, rhythm, is consistently a marvel. These are tremendously exciting poems. The work here is strange and startling – you are never sure where you are, or what is coming next. The poems stretch on to widen the possibilities of what a poem can be. Yet there is a grounded authenticity and emotional surge to the writing. They sweep you up in their flow, in their swerves, in their arch playfulness, in their abrupt intensity. The effect is invigorating and deeply affecting. Lose yourself in these poems and you will not forget it.”

– Alan Gillis, Poet, and Professor of Modern Poetry at Edinburgh University.

“Oisín Breen’s collection honours the tradition of Irish poetry. He weaves lyrical beauty through mythology and nature, presenting compelling poems which are both intelligent and emotionally charged. A powerful and intense use of language challenges and delights. Breen harnesses the craft of imagery to impressive effect.”Róisín Ní Neachtain, poet, artist, and editor Crow of Minerva.

Refugees in their own country by Sunayna Pal for review.

75 verses, on the 75th anniversary of Partition, provides a chariot for anyone, across generations, who wishes to step into Sunayna Pal’s time machine and experience those lost moments, painful moments, moments of truth, which she has magically recreated.

“This is an evocative and energetic collection of poems. It takes the reader through a trajectory of Partition events and experiences. If one wants, many of the poems can be linked to the events of Partition, but they also carry the emotional weight and understanding of what Partition would mean to all of us from South Asia.” –Dr Amrita Shodhan, faculty Partition studies at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

What did you receive?