Riding the Waves of Memory and Loss

‘A Murmur of Ponies’ by James Conway

By Eoin Meegan

James reading from his new collection at the launch in Pearse Street

This is the third collection of poetry by well-known Dublin poet James Conway. His previous collections were Vertebrae of Journey (2010), and The Purple Coat (2017), both which met with critical acclaim. Conway, a previous winner of the prestigious Jonathan Swift Poetry Award has a way of mesmerising with words. They seem to weave in and out of the subconscious in a mixture of sound, colour and vibrating phrases. The book is dedicated to his late wife Philomena, and was launched here in the Pearse Street library back in August to a full house. 

A Murmur of Ponies is divided into a number of sections thematically: for example, Places and People takes us to such diverse locations as Vienna, Killiney Hill, Quincy Market in Boston, Rouen and Clontarf in the old days. While in the Shadow of Heroes there is a nod to Patrick Kavanagh and Sylvia Plath, and under the theme of Nature and Time the poet pays homage to Booterstown bird sanctuary.   

In the section marked The Effects of War we find poems dedicated to Francis Ledwidge, and Thomas Edward, both of whom died in the trenches of World War 1. Included here is the poignant ‘In the Corridors of Her Mind’ (which appeared previously in NewsFour) and tells the story of a survivor of Auschwitz. While ‘Protestant Sisters’, from the Deference section, recalls a time of gentility and aloofness in Ireland, now past. My favourite section is Loss, where we are transported from the lyrical beauty of ‘Terracotta Stones’, to the elusivity of memory in ‘Haunting’. Poems of bravery and beauty, light and colour, they will remain long in the memory.

each September

their eyes spent
time hungry for
a wordless nest…

each twig potent
every turn brought
them closer…

to ‘a murmur of ponies’

Conway is one of the founding members of the Rathmines Writers’ Workshop which came into being back in 1990, and unlike so many others that have come and gone, has endured and in 2023 is still going strong. The secret behind this may be the cohesiveness of the core group of members who have been together from the start (indeed Poetry Ireland itself recommends the RWW to new inquiring poets). The group has published over 20 books in as many years. 

A Murmur of Ponies, A Collection of Poems by James Conway (2023) is published by Swan Press.