Migrants All

from: The Toronto Star – Books: Poetry
by Len Gasparini

Lucy Brennan’s Migrants All is an absorbing and lyrical volume of verse.. . . Her poetry is sensuous. The sights, sound and smell of Ireland are evoked with a vividness that has a physical impact . . . Other poems from this Whitby resident range from the introspective to the ironically anecdotal. Brennan varies the stanzaic rhythm enough to stir the emotion she wants, but not so as to lose the impetus of enjambment. “Night Train” is an eerie nocturne of time, space, and fate. In “Yeats”, she acknowledges literary tradition: For years I carried him around,/ Held hostage by his music . . . He said between sleeping/ And waking you invent/ Your best words. The poem “Vessel” is not only fully realized and well-made but proof that Brennan has learned her trade.

from: The Honest Ulsterman, Issue 109
Review by William Oxley

Brennan’s poems . . . are overwhelmingly about belonging; only – and perhaps because she left Ireland and emigrated to Canada – Brennan’s work more sharply evokes emotion through distance: the sense of loss because of displacement is much stronger – hence the poems are stronger. . . . Also, for the reader there is a powerful fascination in encountering someone – albeit only in print – who has voluntarily dispossessed themselves of their country of origin, if not wholly of its culture. A bit more of an upheaval, . . . than shifting homesteads in the same country,
One day last summer
memory caught fire . . .
and was gone.
But I’d touched its hem.

The pain of shedding a country (if not a culture) runs through this book: ‘What of the guilt that comes/ with the freedom of leaving.’, ‘Having learned to read/ we search for our place/ in books, and locate our lives/ on the lines of history,’ Yes, Lucy Brennan’s Migrants All is a book of dilemma; and there is much in it to move one thereby. But beyond the sweet-bitter examination of displacement, there are the simple beauties of pure poetry too:
Music runs easily
under her fingers –
It is the light she must borrow
each morning, each evening.

from: Irish Emigrant Book Review

. . . In this series of verses we are given a sense of rootlessness, of moving without purpose from one place to another until we reach the poet’s beginnings in Ireland and the poems become autobiographical. She remembers separation from her parents, her grandmother’s house where
You could, but you wouldn’t have dared, eat off the fine-scrubbed deal.

The Christmas when the family were back together again she helps her father tidy the garden and sees the symbolism in the act:
As I pick up stones
and pull tough weeds with him,
we recover some ground together.”

The final section of Migrants All is imbued with the spirit of the mythical figure, Mad Sweeney, with whom Ms Brennan identifies in his homelessness. There is a sadness running through the verses which is tempered by the prospect of new beginnings.

from Eleanor Wilner,
author of Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems

From “the back of beyond” in Ireland to the “riddle’s rim” where one world borders and troubles another, comes the migrant soul of Lucy Brennan – one who speaks for many. The lilt of Irish speech and the shades of old meters play across the cadences of a New World free verse as ”she shapes her own displacement,” under the sheltering wings of birdman Sweeney – the proud, pagan, exiled Irish spirit that she herself has raised. In these moving and often memorable lines, the cost of freedom is counted, not in complaint but in the consoling, heart-rousing measures of song.

from Barry Dempster

Migrants All is a book about loss and discovery, the adventure of new worlds, the never ending draw of the old. You can hear the Irish voice almost immediately, the lilt and ache of legend and memory. At her most beguiling, Lucy Brennan is a storyteller, tall-tales and ordinary moments weaving their complex spells. The Mad Sweeney poems are especially strong, filled with music and possibility; you can almost dance to Sweeney Himself.


Her poetry about Mad Sweeney is discussed in detail in the publication Les métamorphoses de Sweeney dans la littérature irlandaise contemporaine by Pascale Amiot-Jouenne (Groupe de recherche en études irlandaises (ERIBIA), Université de Caen Basse-Normandie 2011)