Reviews
A Part of the Main  (from Stride Magazine UK)


A Little Book of Hours, John F. Deane (99pp, £9.95, Carcanet)

Who, in the still, small hours of the 21st Century, would want to write religious poetry ? And what is religious poetry anyway? In his 1935
essay 'Religion and Literature', T S Eliot said 'What I want is a literature which should be unconsciously, rather than deliberately and
defiantly Christian.' Nearly seventy years later, Geoffrey Hill accused the Eliot of 'Four Quartets' of bequeathing to the likes of Philip Larkin
'a common species of torpor' ('Dividing Legacies, in Style and Faith, 2003).

Nevertheless, many recent poets continue to try to write religious poetry, not least Hill himself. John F Deane's latest collection
represents a spirited, substantial attempt to stake out his own ground amongst this congregation, and it is mostly successful and
impressive. Deane prefaces this book which epigraphs from John Donne - the famous meditation containing 'no man is an island' - and
Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, discussing gifts of the Spirit and how these are used in community.

The first third of the book includes many specifically Irish landscapes: 'Slievemore: The Abandoned Village' describes the deserted
valley, 'space / for the study of the metaphysics of humanness', where the emptiness is viewed as 'allowing God his spaces', an
inarticulate, incomprehensible presence beyond mere human grief. Several poems set on Achill Island also create an elemental, stormy
coastal seascape where the earth lies 'in mythic scope and sanctity' and the ocean is a 'songdance', teeming with life forms. These are
salty and affecting pieces, only occasionally falling too far under the shadow of Heaney, such as in the too-pat 'Ass and Car' (yes, donkey
cart becomes Morris Minor) or 'Tracks', a poem populated by very familiar elements (turf-sods, oil-lamp, hooded shapes in lanes).

Deane is more himself, perhaps, when he uses religious iconography to create family snapshots (for example, flood imagery in 'A Flood
and Many Waters') or the elements of communion/mass in 'The Downpour' to delineate a modest picture of deluge and rebirth. Similarly,
the use of the rhythms of prayer and liturgy in 'Allegri' can allude to the Old Testament figure of Saul and still create a vivid, sweeping
picture of the 'elected symphonies' of grief, an emotion both timeless and contemporary.

Saul reappears again in 'A Book of Kings', one of three long sequences in this book. Here, the figure of David the psalmist is pictured
with his 'sling-shot ego', slaying Goliath, singing before the king and tortured with desire by Bathsheba dancing whilst bathing on a roof.
The victorious king claims he has 'grown to abhor / all violence' and instead marches 'unarmed and bitter...demanding peace', as if from
a Middle East news report.

The book's title sequence gives a series of snapshots of the search for faith, whilst the several poems either called 'The Jesus Body',
'The Jesus Bones' or both, flirt with parables and stubbornly seek parallels in the Irish countryside for 'this Jesus-fox, who broiled fine
fish / on a nest of stones by the lakeshore'. The last poem, 'Final Prayer', takes some of these bread-and-wine moments and stitches
them to a picture of redemption and healing, settling on the crippled woman who 'will step out giddily again/ into blue erotic light', a
creature from a Stanley Spencer resurrection canvas.

These poems actively reject the 'torpor' Hill complained of; they are full of travellers, frail humans and their moments of attraction and
weakness, a prophet like a cunning fox stealing along inside a hedge or present in Nazareth beside the weeping women on kerbs
beside blown-apart cars. Deane creates a highly contemporary form of religious meditation here and the Christian elements are used
with a natural, unconscious grace. If you are at all interested in how religious poetry can still be written, this book will impress and
stimulate you.

   © M.C. Caseley 2009
From a review of "Eye of the Hare", published in Anglican Theological Review:

"This poetry collection comes from one of Ireland's most capable
and distinguished poets and literary figures. It deserves notice in
these pages because it grows out of Deane's continuing struggle
to reconcile himself in verse to the remnants of his childhood
Christianity.

Both occasional and committed poetry readers will find in Deane's
verse an undeniable power and beauty. He writes in unrhymed
traditional stanzas and meters which are full of finely shaped
phrases, but in a mature, usually conversational way that avoids
cleverness or excess."

- Warren M. Harris
Eye of the Hare by John F. Deane

While many poets explore the realm between the terrestrial and the celestial—those
mysteries that exist between heaven and earth, and connect the body with the spirit—
Irish poet John F. Deane goes one step further, delving into the landscape of the
subterranean. In his latest volume, Eye of the Hare, Deane directs readers to the “brute
and idling earthedness” of the grave, the “downward slope” of roots, and the entrance of
the tomb, its “shaft within disappearing into darkness, / down amongst the long-lost sons /
of gravity.” The weight of this topical gravity, however, is counterbalanced by a fleet-
footed joy, and an awestruck appreciation for the land and its living inhabitants. Bats at
evening zag through “the untamed prairie of the stars,” sing “high hymns” at a frequency
humans cannot register, and feed “as we do best, on the invisible.” The ears of a hare
are “like tablespoons filled up with snow.” The full final section of the book describes
Achill, a beautiful but demanding island off the west coast of Ireland, its woods and weeds
and whirls of tidewater, a place “constrained by weathers and the asking / of a rigorous
God.” Deane’s loving treatment of the earth and what lies below it is a perfect field on
which to present questions about contemporary life (including politics and the horrors of
war) and its relationship to religious tradition and belief. Eye of the Hare challenges
readers to take a close look at the world as it is, and then to look deeper, far below the
surface, remembering that while our dead are buried beneath the ground, so are our
treasures. As Deane writes in “Birds, Beasts, and Buttercups,” “This is where / I would
push the poem to go, / deep into woods, and deeper... / and deeper still, where all that is
living touches roots / of earth’s exposed harmonies.”

from "Image Journal" feb 2012:   Seattle USA