Tara Bergin’s This is Yarrow – Reviewed by Pam Johnson
The opening poem declares: ‘Water is terribly difficult to paint – /… artists will insist on painting water/… I simply can’t stand the academic realism of the whole endeavour.’ This telling overture alerts the reader to what follows. The voice is one of many in an intriguing collection; not all are as emphatic as this. Many seem troubled, often there is an underlying anxiety; these ambitious poems are not quite monologues, more psychodramas, fragmented narratives of emotional states.
Exploring the impossibility of representing ‘reality,’ Bergin, instead, asks how might we represent consciousness – the ‘water’ we all swim through – and which operates at several levels? Tuning into a level that seems just beneath our awareness, the poems catch moments of the current of the inner world – the press of thoughts, memories, sense impressions, the unconscious – as it swirls around external encounters.
Set against the ambiguity and elisions the language is accessible, conversational. Often, a sound pattern is established then disrupted.
Violence is under scrutiny in several poems: ‘The voice of violence enters our mouths/… under my own nails/I hear it seduce me./ I argue with nothing it says.’
Also threaded throughout is a dialogue with past poetic representations of realty/fantasy with references to folklore, Yeats and Wordsworth – Bergin has her own ‘Lucy’ poems.
We are never quite sure who is speaking and never get the whole story. These poems enact the impossibility of ever knowing the full story, they dramatise what it is to live with uncertainty. As it is impossible to paint water, so it is impossible to paint a whole life. Unsettling. Memorable.