“a time at dusk and dawn each day”
A Review of Fergus Hogan’s, ‘Bittern Cry’
By Edel Hanley, Doctoral Candidate, University College Cork.
As I first approach Fergus Hogan’s Bittern Cry, I am quickly lured in by the melodic and fluid quality of his verse, overtaken by the way in which the poems evoke an almost forgotten sort of nostalgia; contemplate beauty in the quotidian, the natural world; and meditate the most intimate of human relationships. I feel, at once, at ease with a familiar voice that inhabits each piece, a voice that welcomes you to linger on each word, its meaning, and even its placement within the poem.
Hogan’s introductory poem, “School Bell” establishes the tone of the collection itself, with its opening lines, “for years I could not pass a school at certain times each day” immediately inviting us to get to know a poet who writes with a powerful retrospective vision of his individual experience. Haunted by the sound of children’s laughter at the schoolyard, Hogan’s memory is strikingly vivid; he meticulously conjures images of bygone days with a truthful voice and we see this unwavering honesty travel throughout the remainder of the poems.
Possibly my favourite of the collection, “The Other World” is a poem containing a strange coupling of hope and regret, igniting deep feelings of nostalgia in the reader who is unconsciously prompted to contemplate his/her own childhood, and more specifically, childhood stories. The poem embodies a real sense of ‘Irishness’ as Hogan considers the significance of the tales his grandmother told. He bluntly admits to having ‘lost his way’ on account of growing estranged from these childhood stories, tales he traded in for “a few magic beans/ and the promise of love or adventure” along the way. Still, the poem offers the promise of regaining touch with these old stories, and what they represent for Hogan himself, as he concludes on a more optimistic note: Each time I came back I’d find myself lost/ again, in the other world.”
“Three Stones for a Decision” carries the same nostalgic sentiment as “The Other World.” The poem embraces the tranquillity of the natural world, the rural landscape, as the poet-speaker sits at the edge of a remote lake attempting to reach an unspecified decision. What I find most striking about this piece is the harmony between nature and man; the animals as well as the rising sun have a profound impact on Hogan as a poet who locates meaning in the quotidian. Hogan artfully creates a scene of stillness that compliments his view that nature gives clarity. The poet-figure’s decision, whatever it may be, becomes “as clean as three stones” as we reach the end of the poem and it is apparent that the beauty of the natural world surrounding him offers the answer he silently awaits.
Poems such as “The Second-Hand Shop” showcase a different aspect to Hogan’s poetic, that being an interest in human relationships. Dedicated to his brother, Ken, the speaker recalls a more intimate relationship than what we have seen in some of his other work. Hogan contemplates his brother’s ability to see beauty in old, “broken things” (even including himself as one of these). It seems that the experience of what some of us now call “thrifting” is what brings the pair together, offering them a way to relate and connect on a deeper level as Hogan remembers “He’d come out each time with a CD – brand new – in his hand/ And as we drove off together he’d say/ It’s amazing what some people leave go”. The bond they forge as they drive around Ireland in search of second-hand shops is what Hogan cherishes and this is carefully portrayed in this moving piece.
Another of Hogan’s poems which exhibits an interest in human relationships as “The Second-Hand Shop” is “Father’s Day,” however, the speaker here laments the absence of such with his father. Beginning with a question to which the poet cannot know the answer, “Father’s Day” envelopes a feeling of sympathy as well as admiration for a poet that can write so openly about pain and anguish: “and I wonder what you do today – or/ on any of the years since we last met”. The poet’s feelings towards his father are complex, diverse, and complicated – feelings which Hogan vocalises in a powerfully restrained manner, leaving us to imagine the void he has felt over the years without a father-son bond. Littered with unanswerable wonderings, the speaker does not seek refuge in finding the answers, but rather he seeks solace in asking them on the page.
Hogan’s poems are testament to his literary talent and it was almost impossible to choose only a short selection of his poems to share my enthusiasm, admiration and awe, having had the pleasure to read his work. I can only thank you, Fergus Hogan, for crafting these incredibly touching and eloquently written poems which epitomise, for me, what poetry should be.
Thank you also to Niall and Book Hub Publishing for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts on this moving collection. It was a privilege to read the inspiring words of ‘Bittern Cry’.
When reading Bittern Cry, you might confront the same experience I had, that being, as Hogan says in “The Other World,” that “Each time I came back I’d find myself lost/ again, in the other world.” The poems of Bittern Cry will transport you into another world, a realm in which the art of poetry holds the power to transcend anything.
*A selection of Edel’s poetry will be published in the forthcoming ‘Mental Health For Millennials, Vol 3 scheduled for release on October 10th 2019.