What I’ve Been Reading: Carol Caffrey

The Untethered Space by Carol Caffrey (4Word Press, 2020)

Carol Caffrey’s first pamphlet is striking for its powerful acknowledgement of grief. But it’s also full of music, and in its expressiveness is deeply moving, offering only the most generous response to life’s sorrows.

The pamphlet is organised into sections headed by Italian commands to the musician – Cantabile, Furiosa, Con Brio and so on. These headings loosely enable Caffrey to lead the reader through the stages of her thoughts, so that I travelled through the pamphlet from cover to cover with sympathy and enjoyment at her skill.

This skill, which is both restrained and overflowing, focuses on the early deaths of two brothers and two sisters. The source of family is in Caffrey’s first poem ‘Allihies Flowers’ –
‘keepsakes of that place of high sorrow/ the precious ground of home that holds you all’.

The echo of Allihies Flowers is heard again and again later in the pamphlet. Caffrey often uses short lines, and simple language, to powerful effect:

‘Some lives fall lightly
on this earth leaves
on a summer breeze

Some cast up hard
on a place of high sorrow
slow swell of ice flow

These lines also serve to show how good is Caffrey’s ear. I liked so much her echoes and assonances – ‘high’ and ‘ice’; ‘flow’, ‘sorrow’, ‘swell’ and ‘slow’.

These poems are distinctive, with many fine lines to savour – I loved ‘Atlantic Swim’ (for Sheila) –
‘Our childhood Irish sea was lava-hot compared to this.
Here I lower myself, inch by parsimonious inch,
into the polar cold…
“It’s just like soup”, you quote our dad.
I used to think you were half-dolphin. Or half-mad’.

Here is a pamphlet which really does offer an ‘untethered space’ for feeling, for reflecting over grief, but always, returning to love.

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