In this poetry collection, John McKittrick, born in West Belfast, shows there is some basis for the stereotype of the Irish gift for the blarney. Though the book is short, its handful of lyrics demonstrate a lovely, lilting voice that is by turns affectionate and sentimental when addressing family and lovers or stern and admonitory when grappling with the longstanding political and religious strife that has plagued McKittrick’s homeland for so long.
Though they seem slighter at first reading, McKittrick is at his best in some of the lighter, more tender pieces. In, for example, “Sandra Alison,” McKittrick writes from the point of view of a little girl: “Oh daddy write a poem, / Oh write one just for me, / Just as you did for Colin, / Though not as bad for me.”
A number of things stand out in this short but effective stanza. First, the rhythm and rhyme are perfectly suited to the material and expertly handled. Second, the tone seems appropriate for a little girl pleading for a favor. Third, and perhaps most delightful, there is the kick of self-deprecating humor at the end: write a poem for me but make it better than the one you wrote for my brother.
The political poems are a mixed lot. There are lines with a heavy, almost savage, irony: “Oh Father forgive me I have sinned, / I’ve blown a man to bits. / It wasn’t meant for him you see, / I meant it for the’ Brits’.” And while that stanza works effectively, too many times the verse turns plodding and preachy: “But if the truth be known, and it is! / One has to say, they’re just simply / Ignorant, pathetic, brutal psychopaths. / Who don’t deserve the time of day?”
McKittrick has the skills and sensibility to be a good poet. He needs, however, to sharpen his focus, cut away the deadwood and give fuller scope to his insights into how people care, and don’t care, for one another in order to craft a more fully effective collection.