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Looking Out To Sea is a collection of landscapes and the people that inhabit them. With the image of the ocean at its centre, Kevin Ireland deftly crafts a panorama of vision and memory.
The cover image of a single man amongst the tumult of the ocean hints at the complex emotions explored in Looking Out To Sea. At first, the opening poem focuses on a single moment of childhood bliss where the narrator skips stones “across the still and glassy sea”. However, this bliss is soon undercut by an ending that suggests the losses of growing up.
By placing this denial of romanticism at the very beginning, Looking Out To Sea also considers what is real. We, as the reader, learn to become wary of our own interpretation, such as being sceptical of the beautiful silhouette in ‘Girl on Cheltenham Beach’. Sometimes this message is more explicit; for example, ‘Great day in paradise?’ is a poem that asks its title with doubt, and chooses to depict the true ferocity of the ocean that others tend to forget.
Following from this are also poems about the very act of writing poetry itself. Ireland explores how writing a poem can sometimes be a conscious process of grasping the right words before they, and the moment, slips away. It also acknowledges the flipside of this, suggesting the danger of waiting indefinitely for a poem to come.
The beautiful moments that Ireland captures are still valid, even if there is the possibility of romanticism. ‘Cold Duck’ is a short but simple poem that is both vivid and sweet. The rich language of the piece ends beautifully on the image of wine “corks we aimed / at the summer moon”. Although there were some pieces such as “Happy twenty-first” that contained more hackneyed and simple language, pieces like ‘Cold Duck’ were brilliant moments that brought emotion and wonder to Ireland’s landscapes.
As I read further, the collection seemed to be zooming out from the opening piece, which was a poem that had quite a contained setting. Near the end of Looking Out To Sea, Ireland zooms out further and touches on wider subjects. The title of one of these pieces, ‘Human climate change’, made me wary whether the poem would be preachy and cliché. However, I found the piece to be an unexpectedly comical and original take on an often-discussed matter.
Finally, the last piece briefly considers the Earth as a whole. This final poem also suggests other means of interpreting the title Looking Out To Sea. It can remind us of the dual nature of the ocean that can be both fierce and calm, a complexity that Ireland’s poetry explores. It can, indeed, encapsulate the feelings evoked from this action and the seemingly limitless way the horizon stretches into the distance. Or it can also simply be the act of looking out into the distance that was steadily conveyed throughout the collection, from a single focus to a broader and greater picture.
Reviewed by Emma Shi
Looking Out to Sea
by Kevin Ireland
Published by Steele Roberts