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Book review: Desire by Micheal O’Siadhail

26 April 2024

Martyn Halsall reads formal expression of post-Covid concerns

MICHEAL O’SIADHAIL is arguably our leading poet-philosopher in the English language. Having spent ten years “thinking, conversing and writing” about the founders of modernity in poetry, for his 2018 The Five Quintets (Books, 2 August 2019), he was considering fresh explorations into our “new uncertain period” of the 21st century. The catalyst and key proved devastating: the “stupendous surprise” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

O’Siadhail’s associated concerns of “the destruction of the planet and rampant capitalism of the digital age” provided the agenda for the new poetry of Desire. What we desire from life O’Siadhail labels “the ultimate question”. He asks: “How can we ever have the serenity to sense the coherence of all life, to trust the abundance of being, to catch a prayerful glimpse of the eternal?” In response, he offers a co-operative spirituality as a response to the interwoven pandemics of disease, corporate greed, and technological takeover.

He writes with measured formality, in four sections, of 26 pages each, of poetic precision, as in the pairs of linked sonnets that examine every angle of the governing pandemic. Greed leads his charge sheet, tracked from human desire for mastery in Eden to the amassing of data by the “super-prodigies” of Silicon Valley.

One issue that this collection inherently raises is whether the strict formality of the poetry diverts from the energy of O’Siadhail’s prosecution. He brings a scholar’s comprehensive intellect to his fluent meditations, but righteous anger is present also, flowing through his work, interwoven with the reverent, creative spirituality of the Hebrew Scriptures. Indeed, the spiritual tide rises as the collection progresses, to a concluding group of six sonnets that call for a re-affirmation of God’s desire for partnership with us in the demanding stewardship of creation:

Will we trust fulfilment in God’s

All creation loved for love’s own

Dr Martyn Halsall is a poet and journalist. His latest poetry collection is
The Weather Door (The Book Mill, 2023).

Micheal O’Siadhail
Baylor University Press £20.95

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