The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon

Dublin Diary: Barbara Knott

Review of Noel Duffy's Summer Rain

Noel Duffy's new collection of poems Summer Rain (2016) is a compact arrangement of complex observations on what it means to be human in a natural world. In it we find the still unusual juxtaposition of poetry with science and the intermingling of elements that refreshes both disciplines by exploring metaphorical and literal meanings of rain and radiance.The book is organized into three sequences: a series of interrelated dramatic poems on the late life of physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, followed by a group of nature poems that feature shape-shifting water, and then a final grouping of ten monologues by various speakers whose ambience is influenced by summer rain.

The dramatic sequence allows us to feel our way into the life of a great scientist, and that is interesting in and of itself. Duffy, who is both a physicist and a poet, then leads us to look at patterns in the shape and movement of small things, from atoms to raindrops and snowflakes to drops of blood. I want to draw your attention to a few patterns and images that may whet your literary appetite for more.

Reading the poems, we go from quiet invisibility of molecules buried “deep in eddies and currents/ reaching for an elegant union” to the radically tough parabolic journey of the salmon, to a vicious and heartbreaking encounter between wolf and fox, then back to “water shape-shifting from one form/ to another in a delicate balance” and forward again to snow “softening the landscape,”and onward to “cycles of rain supporting life/ and nature by those circulations, like blood/ passing through the heart chambers.”

“Surface Tension” leads us to see the thin but strong borders between elements in nature, like water and air, and invites us to consider metaphorical implications of distancing. In a monologue by Christine, we get an unusual glimpse into the life of a medical technician examining a drop of blood under a microscope, checking for malignancy and finding it, thinking of the human it belongs to and of her role not only in finding but in delivering the news.

Another poem “A Penny for a Pelt” creates a lurching moment when we realize how easily humans—in this case, a young one—dominate other animals with their gun-barrels raised for “one clean shot/ all that it takes to strip their carcass for a pelt” and sell it for a penny. This one brings out mixed emotions in the reader, in sympathy for both the fur-covered creature and for the boy whose poverty leads him to robbing it of life and pelt.

Such fecund images! Of life consuming life, salmon reversing life flow to leap dangerous hurdles, of surface tensions, shapeshifting water, snow softening, cycles of rain—images that will stay with you long after closing the book for the first time.

The collection ends with an Autumn Almanac, a page of poems the size of raindrops, including this one: "Street lamps flicker on/ in November twilight-/ amber nightfall." It shows one of many ways to find radiance in this volume of poetry in motion.

Copyright 2016, Barbara Knott. All Rights Reserved.