Irish bard. Storyteller. Troubadour. All these come to mind when reading J. Flaherty’s third volume of poetry, PERFECTLY ROUND RIPPLES. History, politics, religion, romance, death and day-in-the-life occurrences – they are all in there, woven into verse using a style that invokes the essence of poets of old.
Flaherty’s penchant for peppering his poems with archaic words (shouldst, doth, thou, etc.), referencing faerie realms and calling upon historical and literary figures give the poems a fable-like quality. Some of the familiar entities either starring or making cameos include Jesus, Plato, Captain Ahab, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, Puritans, Neptune, Blackbeard, St. Patrick and P.T. Barnum. Flaherty also rolls out a cast of characters who might haunt any pub or city street: barflies, a gypsy woman, panhandlers, a gambler, lovers in a park.
His words often work together to create poems that visually appeal, such as in this passage from “In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lullaby”:
March, for sure, is an inscrutable month
testing our faith in February’s shadow
with wind chill voodoo, snow-white
nor’easters and frost-on-your-windshield
His darker poems seem particularly in line with the spirit of the book’s title. His title work, “Perfectly Round Ripples,” sets the stage for poetry that is intended to reverberate once the book is closed. In another poem, “Creation Redux,” Flaherty imagines the aftermath of a nuclear explosion devoid of humans.
Only thing missing is us in this woodland
haven, serendipitously spawned through
and by dint of wilderness justice we alone
are unable to adapt
to the environs we’ve tainted
What does not work so well in this volume are a smattering of haiku that come across more as sing-songy filler that disrupts the book’s flow, which while cute, are a waste of space in a book of poems intended to create ripples. The same could be said of some of the poems that prominently feature animals. In “How Do You Like Your Coffee?” a “psycho-kitty-ambush” results in spilled coffee that the cat then laps up before it “glides away.” And that is the end of that. What gives here? Content that is purely fanciful has no place in a poetry collection that wants to be taken seriously.
Cut away the fluff, and J. Flaherty’s PERFECTLY ROUND RIPPLES becomes a book that strives to deepen the meaning of life and create connection. The lyrical, folk-lorish qualities of the poems lend themselves perfectly to spoken word, making them well-suited for listening to in a crowded pub with a rippling pint of Guinness in hand.
~Libby Wiersema for IndieReader