Gráinne Tobin

The Uses of Silk

ISBN: 9781851321957

It’s the very virtues of Gráinne Tobin’s poetry – subtlety, cleverness, a succinct wisdom, exhilarating formal dexterity – which make the thematic risk-taking in her work, the analysis of uncomfortable circumstances, the slippages and losses of footing, the people and places left suddenly bereft, the discovery of wry and often raucous humour under the most desperate conditions, both manageable and fruitful. Hers is humane company, fearless but with a serious and intense capacity for empathy, as much with a reactionary protestor who ‘should wear a tunic of brownish wool,/rough-woven like sacking,/… held at the waist with a belt of deer sinews’, as with the silk-spinning golden orb spider ‘spooling draglines of finery,/stronger than the fiercest filament/dreamt of in modern war’s laboratories’. The dramatis personae are varied and unexpected; the emotional range expansive enough to run from elegy to slapstick; the diction charged, ingenious, delightful in incongruity and aptness. This collection is a considerable achievement, a resource of voices heard and consents given, indeed like ‘an inheritance of soup and matches,/perfumed soap still in its cellophane,/in case the day comes when we’ll need/to be provided for, or to provide.’

– Damian Smyth

Gráinne Tobin casts a steely sceptic eye over the Ireland of her childhood but her view is mediated by gentler memories of family tenderness surviving amid the fervour and craziness of 1950s religiosity. Here is a poet employing a nimble wit, seeing behind facades, moving in the slipstream of savage histories in and beyond Ireland. Her language is physical, energised, thoughtful, and enhanced by a guarded lyricism.

– Penelope Shuttle