A Marathon for Sprinters: A Review of Bad News, Good News, Bad News by Edward O’Dwyer

Neil Slevin is a writer from Co. Leitrim, Ireland whose poetry has been published widely, most recently in Skylight 47 and A New Ulster, amongst others. Read more of Neil via https://twitter.com/neil_slevin

When you open Edward O’Dwyer’s Bad News, Good News, Bad News (Salmon) to its index, you may be struck by the number of poems – seventy-plus – that constitute the Limerickman’s second collection, follow-up to The Rain on Cruise’s Street (Salmon, 2014), and think yourself in for a marathon read.

Instead, Bad News is a book most would deem a rarity in poetry. You could read it in full with little need to stop for refreshment.

Purists could interpret this as a slight suggesting O’Dwyer’s poems lack the depth of meaning and weight of language we’ve come to expect from those who’ve gone before. However, it speaks more of the gently satirical commentary of the book’s opening before the latter half becomes more personal and present, the poet’s I appearing more regularly as we kick for home.

The book’s title, on the other hand, stands us on surer ground. Bad News, Good News, Bad News seems a straight-forward implication that, through these poems at least, O’Dwyer considers life to be cyclical in nature. The good will follow the bad but the bad will return to us, in case we get ahead of ourselves.

This is vindicated by the collection’s opening couple, ‘Tuesday’ and ‘Grand’. ‘Tuesday’ alludes darkly to a life lost because of the subject’s refusal to embrace any form of growth:

You conquered the future / with your unrelenting commitment / to daytime TV and stained dressing gowns… It had no choice in the end / but to surrender, /meet your demands / of complete anonymity / and six feet of cold earth.

‘Grand’, meanwhile, addresses the heart and history of Irish people. It reads as an elaboration of the book title’s implicit meaning, and a deft critique of our endemic inability to confront and accept our feelings:

I imagine famished bodies / in the wasteland bogs of Ireland / back in 1845 / telling one another how grand they are.

This pattern of social commentary established, O’Dwyer maintains a similar pace, albeit with a few emotional interjections (the heart-breaking ‘Deserves’, rough yet elegiac ‘My Best Friend Sammy’, and subtle shock of ‘A New Bicycle’) until ‘Biography’, a poem in three parts.

Although ‘Biography’ is consistent with predecessors including ‘Desmond’s Tea Break’, ‘Man About Town’, and ‘Urine’ in dealing with life misspent then wasted, form-wise it’s an atypical Bad News poem.

And because Bad News is not divided explicitly into section or sequence, this poem’s break with O’Dwyer’s preferred style and structure subtly marks the book’s transition from gentle satire to more personal reflection and recollection.

In ‘Fáilte’ we meet the narrator’s daughter, Nadine, and O’Dwyer directs us skilfully to consider the contrasts and tensions between Ireland and America, despite a shared history, while Nadine attempts to impart her cúpla focal:

There is none of our accusatory ways in her, / none of our time-bought cynicism. / Capitalism, Bush, Guantanamo mean nothing to her.

Similarly, ‘Ruby’ is inspired by the eponymous pet but deals more directly with its muse. We learn Ruby and the narrator’s time together will soon end but the tone is accepting and celebratory, culminating in the gloriously sweet image of Ruby chasing ‘a special ball… through such a place / that she’ll chase happily for eternity.’

Subsequent poems continue with the personal. Highlights stem from O’Dwyer’s intersection of personal and social with strains of the surreal, the very best being the hilarious ‘Texting God’:

Text me, God, / text me, I thought. / Tell me to fuck off if you want. / Tell me you don’t care, / just let me know you’re there.

Bad News, Good News, Bad News concludes with ‘The Credits’, as definitive a finish line as you’ll find. For a collection more focused on the message each poem transmits than genre loyalty, this is somewhat meta, but ‘The Credits’ does encapsulate the best of Edward O’Dwyer Mk. Bad News.

In it, we find another example of O’Dwyer’s ability to source and adopt alternative points of view before shifting them into metaphor: ‘He said we’d wandered into his shot / yet we are in the centre of the frame, making / it a picture of us, and the intrusion his camera’s.’

Meanwhile, ‘You could easily imagine the four horsemen / sweeping into frame, and us / taking no great notice, /accepting what will be’ injects his recurrent sense of humour, lest a poem like this take itself too seriously.

Lastly, the closing lines exhibit O’Dwyer’s quiet love for imagery, leaving us to rest, catch breath, and await the opening shot of his next offering:

… imagine that sky coming down, / dropping emphatically onto us, / then one of those cinematic fades to black / where, if this were all a film, / the credits would start rolling down.

For more information on Bad News, Good News, Bad News and the poet, Edward O’Dwyer, please visit http://salmonpoetry.com/details.php?ID=425&a=263.

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