NEW HOPE INTERNATIONAL REVIEW

An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
FRED JOHNSTON: THE ORACLE ROOM
Cinnamon Press
Ty Meiron
Glan yr Afon
Tanygrisiau
Blaenau Ffestiniog
Gwynedd
LL41 3SU
UK
ISBN 978 1 905614 21 9
7.99

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FRED JOHNSTON: THE ORACLE ROOM

This is where the political is a barometer for the personal, as Fred Johnston frequently blends both easily, as in THE SOUND OF PLEASE

	There is a world
	To argue with, to oppose,
	Outside this grey-walled world.
He gives an inkling of the impetus to protest, in LETTER BEFORE SETTING OUT
	Something in people like us
	Is always unfaithful to the rest of the world;
			I will keep on the move.
And then, of course, there's PROTEST itself, arguably the most potent item in this collection, balancing that public/private experience of seasoned demonstrators, with
		      ..they sang Lennon,
	Dylan, and dull men in a silver car
	Photographed them. In the dulling sky
	Aircraft angled upwards and down,
				..Beyond
	A perimeter fence warplanes dozed.
No, it's not the expected holier-than-thou ending - the male protestor has his eye on the young girl,

	           .hopping from 
	One argument to the next  while
	He, scanned by the fire of her, became
	More see-through by the second,
	A refugee in his own heart
You see how complicated the public and the private becomes. Back in the personal life there is commemoration of Gerald Davis, Dublin's latter-day Leopold Bloom,
 
	I went away from every meeting with a Jazz
	CD like a bright, surreal coin in my pocket
While there are verses on Sousse, Tunisia, Paris, London, Brittany, Moscow, Josselin, the face of Ireland (and Galway in particular) shows through insistently. There are constant references to water. But just as most writers would rest on the scenery (the usual trap of most Irish writing), Fred Johnston like a true citizen-journalist goes further into the structure and points out local defects, including the prostitution of males as well as females on a postcard promenade. He is also outspoken enough to write about THE SUICIDES, which was like an epidemic. Yet just as he seems in the thick of social comment and chivvying, he can dart off like a guerilla back into the landscape, in KILLALOE,
	The river is a mirror, the sky shaves in it,
	A lather of cloud flicks onto the bone fields.
And then it's back to THE ORACLE ROOM, where the material is sifted into lyrical newsprint, coping with the complexities of the new Ireland in X-FILE,
	A bald man like any other
	Said he fixed small countries.
	He said this like you would
	Say: I work in a garage
It is when Fred Johnston holds up a mirror to such shenanigans, exposing the trickery, that he produces his best poetry, willing to speak out. There is even a warning about the poetry world itself, where he shows, in THE KAFKA PRIZE FOR POETRY how it has degenerated into a kind of sheep dip. You have been warned. That's what oracles do.

reviewer: Pat Jourdan.