It is always a delight when someone reads and appreciates your work. However, it is extra special when its your first chapbook they are reading. I am truly humbled by the extraordinary kindness of the people below, and I am so grateful.
Reading Robin McNamara’s Under a Mind’s Staircase is like taking a journey through the human condition. McNamara masterfully conveys the idea of the unreachable: the sense of something forthcoming, acts of grasping at straws, and an eventual falling away. Achingly beautiful and expertly written, McNamara’s poetry will leave you asking yourself questions about the complexities of our reality.
EIC Dwelling Literary & Pushcart Prize nominee USA
McNamara’s poems teem with images from the natural world, from this world and other worlds, and from what he himself calls ‘tides and seasons’. Often he is subsumed in nature: ‘The lichen and moss grows/so slowly over my mind.’
There is an underlying sense of betrayal here, betrayal by old loves and critics, by the education system and even by nature itself: ‘When the winds rustled through/The yellow fields of corn,/I thought of a safe place,/A place I’ll return to with/grey hair and creaking bones.’
But the ‘safe place’ is always threatened, never quite what was promised, and there is a constant striving in the poems for inspiration. This is especially true when McNamara writes about writing itself, battling uncertainties and rejections and, in one poem, trying to conduct the muse: ‘Can you shape a melody/that shows how I see you/in blue, sweetness, strumming sounds?’
There’s humour too, a gentle smile in A Nun on a Bicycle, but a blacker humour in poems like It’s Quite Mental Really: ‘I tried to take a walk but/my Agoraphobia said/“I’m back, bitch.”’
Catherine Ann Cullen.
Poet In Resident at Poetry Ireland
Under A Mind’s Staircase poses questions with regard to the position of the poet between fact and faith, divinity and Darwin, between the brambles and the briars of choking cities while the devil drinks the soul of his margarita. McNamara carefully creates a deep sense of shedding here; disregarding the lies and stepping into a truth that doesn’t always turn out to be bright. But behind all this dark, dissolving, fruitless fate, there is an understanding of moments here to be embraced, before the fires go out and we return to dust and equally the collection is well laid out with moments to also come up for air.
This first collection is a brave account of the frailties of humanity set against the unrelenting, irrepressible force of nature that rolls back in to take more out on the tide and throughout each season and yet the poet knows the comparison is actually incomparable because these thoughts are shared with an overriding sense that he has accepted that this is not a regrettable sadness, as if he has already met loss and is now coming through what happens after.
The path here is cluttered with obstacles to overcome; those devouring devils, plucking blackbirds, ghosts of frosted breath, stifling greying walls of school, Christian brothers and and occasionally we are lulled into softer segments; apple pickings and dreamy dusked evenings but they too have passed, are now a part of time lost.
Imagery and sounds are vital elements in moving this collection along, with such lush lines like ‘…The blackbirds plucked the briars and brambles, pregnant with blackberries…’‘…the noise of choirs in shadows of swallows that come together, in nested trees…’ ‘…You evaporated into stillness of nights long ago gone like a guilty mistress…’ that twist so well against the nods to Eliot, Bulgakov, Frost, Stephen James Smith and even Carroll’s Alice and those timewasters in Wonderland.
This first chapbook holds nothing back in how deep it explores life’s underbelly but it definitely comes with its own rewards when the truth is fully realised. The final three poems give glimmers of what might come next; the rise of a poet finding himself, afterwards, after the struggle towards the self, after the separating, the discombobulating and eventually discovering one’s self to be an island, still waiting to be explored. This chapbook hints at the gems that are in store for us in future collections.
A powerful, observational introduction to a poet accepting life’s limitations, embracing the full force of his phobias and finally finding his place, even if that place is near the Butter mountain in Lobsterland, the wonderful midway poem from this collection that delivers more answers than first expected. The last poem leaves the poet on his island, having made his way finally to the garden of words. Under the Mind’s Staircase is a worthy first foray into the limelight and leaves the reader hoping it won’t be long until we are invited back for more.
Poet & Host of ‘Eat the Storms’ Podcast.