The Zebra Stood in the Night
It may not be intentional, but a heavy vaporous emanation of melancholy lingers throughout The Zebra Stood in the Night, Kerry Hardie’s seventh collection of poetry, published in Ireland by The Gallery Press, and in Britain by Bloodaxe.
Hardie’s style is shyly inconspicuous, her lines – where relevant – parsed and honed for anything but dramatic effect: ‘it is May, and the rain is falling. (fromMay Rain);’I’ve taken a sick dog to the vet and we’re waiting (from Threnody for Seamus) and, from Latvia Phones Ireland, ‘It is November. I am making dinner when the phone rings.’
Hardie’s intention with The Zebra Stood in the Night is to efface any trace of preemptive planning in the architecture of the poem: they are written as they came to her, all the better to mirror an extraordinary sequence of events orchestrated, it would appear relentlessly, by death.
Expiring is, of course, the Hamlet of subject material for poets, whose first brush with mortality is vicariously sieved through observing nature, and so it is with Hardie’s Foxwinter, where, after a dog fox is shot, ‘the flame was quenched – charred hearth of bones in January’s frozen mud.’
In fact, death is omnipresent throughout The Zebra Stood in the Night and, whether real or imagined, personal or observed, Hardie’s anthropic probing of death’s black hole is open ended: poetry is her tool to probe this most defining of experiences.
In recent times, death has given her enough fodder to last a lifetime, and the titles allude to the loss of fellow poets and artists in a ridiculously short time: Barrie Cooke, Denis O’Driscoll and Seamus Heaney.
There is too the very tragic death of her brother Paddy from a heart attack at the age of 47 in 2012, a year before Heaney, and the second part of the book is a series of meditations on grief, though Hardie points out that it is not specific to her brother.
But he is the catalyst, and Hardie, in this short, sad and bitter sweet collection, reminds us how poetry, in Ruskin’s words, is a conqueror of forgetfulness. ‘Why can’t I leave you alone and stop prying?/What is it that I need to understand?’ (from Fragment).