The Sacred Geometry of Life Geomantic by Paula Meehan

Paula Meehan.
Image courtesy Wikipedia.

By Geneva Pattison

There are patterns in existence, so random and seemingly imperceptible that we simply miss them completely. Paula Meehan’s poetry collection, ‘Geomantic’, seems to attempt to fight this idea by creating order out of chaos.
The word Geomantic itself comes from Greek meaning “earth divination”, a type of divination that interprets patterns on the ground made by casting soil or rocks upon it.
The poet uses the pattern of nine to make sense of it all, and the book comprises of 81 poems, each with nine lines and consisting of nine syllables per line.
The collection is the culmination of a decade’s worth of poems, many of which were written during her time as Ireland Professor of Poetry from 2013-2016. Environmental, societal and familial themes are tackled in Geomantic as we venture through past realms both unknown and familiar, always looking to the future.
“The Commemoration Takes Our Minds Off the Now” is a poem that was inspired by the 1916 commemorations that took place throughout 2016.
The poet addresses the government directly by making a “boon” or request to them. She muses that those in power govern knowing that “none” can truly know “how much of the country has been flogged like an old nag.” Meehan talks about the turning of the “karmic wheel”, a mystical warning perhaps, cautioning of the influence of cause and effect.
The following line reflects the repeating cycles of life by acknowledging the bravery of those in poverty “going round and round the bend.” The final lines of the poem read like a rhetorical question, “How mad do you have to be to make sense of the state of the State we’re in?”
In truth, a partial answer is revealed in the title of the poem, distraction staves off madness. This powerful reflection calls us to attention to examine where we believe the government’s focus should lie and where further pushes are needed.
There’s a strong social criticism present in “Commemoration” and we can see the poet speaks from a deeply informed position, evident in the poem “The Child I Was.”
In the poem, Paula writes on her childhood views while growing up in Dublin during the 1960s. The second line, “let me die for Ireland I prayed,” is an innate portrait of patriotism from the mind of the poet’s younger self.
She prays with her “sword of light” in her hand, a reference to the sword of light wielded by King Nuada of celtic legend. The sword could only be held by Nuada as long as he remained balanced in his presiding over justice and truth in Ireland, a desire of the young poet also. Here we can see where the domain of history and of the fabled interlace.
Her respect and understanding for Ireland’s troubled history is clear. She makes reference to the blowing up of Nelson’s Pillar in O’Connell St, an event which occurred in 1966, a year specifically referenced in the first line of the poem, she was 11.
We further understand her strong opinions on poverty when she relays, “I understood we were poor – we lived on streets named for our patriot dead.” This line also paints a similar picture to the previous poem discussed. Of course it’s necessary to remember the past but, how can we shift the wheel of fate to turn in our favour now, in the present?
In the poem, “The January Bee” we are drawn into a biodiverse microcosm. The beginning of the piece has a delicate sentimentality to it, “who comes to the winter flowering shrub, grief in his empty pouches.” A feeling of melancholic isolation permeates the space being moulded by the poet in this verse, reminiscent of the works of Emily Dickinson. We learn that she would have missed this small moment, had she not “stopped mid-argument to watch the moonrise.” The poet’s attention was brought out of a difficult circumstance by the sheer power of nature to give one’s self clarity.
The lush musicality to Meehan’s verse shines through in the final section. She catches the bee “shaking the bells of the scarce blossoms”, marking the death of their argument while simultaneously heralding in “peace.”
Paula Meehan’s much loved poem, “The Quilt”, perhaps most epitomises the essence of her chosen form and theme of ‘memory’ within the collection. It begins, “It was a simple affair – nine squares by nine squares”, a symmetrical equation evoking feelings of safety, of grounding. The description of her “grandmother’s quilt” is beautifully detailed. It’s bright, varied colours, patterns and adornments wrap the poet during “the long and winding nights of childhood.”
From the comfort of her bed she recalls the round window that sat above, her “own full moon.” From there she would watch the “weather’s wheeling past, the stars, the summer suns”, observing the cycles of a year – seeing the passage of time. It’s as if the patchwork of one’s own future itself is comforting her, telling her to embrace inevitable change and to move with the ebb and flow of existence.
The image of the moon takes a prominent role in this collection of poetry, marking itself proudly as the subject of the first poem in the book. “The Moons” is a piece which appears to lift the veil for both poet and reader. Like a blessing or a spell before a ritual, we’re invited to invoke memories, and ask to view them as if reflected on the moon’s very surface. For it was always there, the mirror to our existence since time immemorial, witnessing all. Or as the poet writes, “moon’s of my life adrift on a stream.”
Mystical and mythical references are entwined throughout the entire collection, offering us a unique vision of the poet’s life and our shared histories. Paula’s words are profoundly intricate, laced with allusion while being delightfully frank on observed truths.
When considering the book in its entirety, ‘Geomantic’ powerfully illustrates the highs of everyday wins and staggering lows of personal and collective loss as we all try to learn the past, be in the present and attempt to navigate the future.
‘Geomantic’, published by Dedalus press is available from Books on the Green and all good bookstores.