James Lawless is the author of three novels and a study of modern poetry, as well as being the recipient of several awards. From Dublin and living in Co. Kildare and West Cork this is his first poetry collection.
The title Rus in Urbe is Latin and translates as 'country in the city' (rustic in urban) and is used to describe city parks such as New York's Central Park. Lawless uses this phrase to divide his collection into two parts 'Rus' and 'In Urbe', and these forty plus poems maybe reflect his own life in Dublin/ the city and in the more rural West Cork and Co. Kildare.
In Part One: Rus, the country section, the poems are about nature and its surroundings; rocks, foliage, walking observations and weather signs. 'Carrying Forward' is a lovely poem, about recognition of our parents' physical traits in ourselves. It opens in a visually quite beautiful way, "The hairs of my fingers/ are caught by the sun/ like some spidery creatures". Observations in the garden are captured in 'Changing Forms', in particular a butterfly; "it pirouetted and tantalised,/ wings fluttering like eyelashes/ on a regal mistress". The imagery is very attractive and almost seductive.
The great title of 'The Bachelor Who Drank Poitín' is a sad poem of a life in solitude and tells of a discovery after "they beat back the briars", to find a corpse and the bottles, "They pushed in the door,/ inhaled the putrefied air;/ they called again". A visual feast of memory is described in 'Old Trains', as the speaker hears the train and recalls, "my aunt, her bag laden with/ Crunchies, comics and stories/ to intoxicate myth-starved minds;". But the modern train passing is a disappointment without the noise of the door banging or the steam, "just a flutter of breeze".
Part Two: In Urbe opens with 'Ascending a Liberties Staircase in 1952'. The scene is described in its sparseness; the black bannister, the bin chute and the concrete. A mother struggles up with a child and a baby in a pram, "I helped my mother tilt and lift;/ I could hear her heavy breathing,/ each slow tortuous step its own individual,". Winner of a poetry competition, 'The Miracle of the Rain' is an emotive journey of two on the Santiago Pilgrim's Route- one a bare-footed believer and her companion a booted sceptic; "It's a matter of faith, she says,/ You must believe things to be true/ or the world is just a place of pain." Her pain is a hidden one, only reveling itself on their arrival as she kneels in the Cathedral, "and copious tears flow out of her eyes". The speaker realises, "I see the skeleton of her hand./ Pray to Santiago, she says,/ that he may cure me." The poem is affecting and one I re-read in order to again experience its full power.
'Parisien Vignettes' is just that, short scenes or impressions of Paris. The liking of a fur-coated woman walking her poodle to a Degas painting is very effective and "in a distant café: a half heard love song". But this is not a poem romanticising Paris. In Pigalle, the red-light district, "...a drugged girl,/ wavering in the middle of the street,/ remonstrates with captive motorists" and in the smart vestibule of a hotel in Porte D'Orleans a groomed dog waits, "the route on the pavement/ marked by his shit."
James Lawless has put together a very good collection of poetry here, encompassing many emotions and environments. Some are short and snappy but still deserve as much consideration and contemplation for their message as the longer poems. The division of two parts puts the reader into a particular mindset to receive the rural poem or the more gritty urban poetry.
Rus in Urbe is published by Doghouse Books.