No. 10 – OLYMPIA by Judy O’Kane


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The Irish poet Judy O’Kane’s ‘Olympia’ is not a famous location in ancient Greece, but a typewriter, a word younger readers will probably have to ‘google’ to track down. Nor is it just any old typewriter. It is the machine on which the Cornish poet Charles Causley typed up his poems.

O’Kane has a passion for archives and for registering through their materiality the haunting presence of those whose papers, photos, and random effects they preserve. Here we find her in slightly unnerving communion with Causley, with Louis MacNeice, in passing, and on nodding terms at least with Hughes and Heaney as they line Causley’s shelves. It is a rich proceeding, a kind of collaboration with the dead, including a heartening moment with W. S. Graham.

Much of the magic here lies in the way O’Kane’s own poetry progresses, and feels itself progressing, in response to her various immersions. Nor is her interest restricted to the poets. She also treats us to a meditation on Roger Deakin, the writer and environmentalist, inspired by his manuscripts and papers, their privacies made common ground.

Beyond all that, she writes a fine, free-standing lyric when she chooses to. Her poems give us feeling moments of pause, to reflect on the ‘everyday’ in celebrated lives, and on our own works and days and mortality.

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