What Just Happened by Sara Berkeley TolchinWhat Just Happened by Sara Berkeley Tolchin

What Just Happened

bySara Berkeley Tolchin

Paperback | September 7, 2016

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Sara Berkeley Tolchin's new collection of poems begins: "I'd like my heart / to be without conditions, / to crack each day a little more open," an ambition these vibrant, airy poems explore in the book's copious reach. It reflects on themes of loss and losing: "My mother is missing. The stars too, / the stars are not where I left them, / they are not in their constellations." As Wes Davis observed, in his Harvard Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry, "her rich poems - and her sharp eye for details of the natural world - are given a resonant tension by the stretched ties to her native country." What Just Happened includes poems set on the west coasts of Ireland and the United States. But "the rumble beneath her poetic language," Davis continues, "is most often the noise made by the tectonic plates of personality as they shift beneath the surface terrain of relationships." Flights - actual and imaginary - embrace a search for "true north, / the secret heart of all things." Though they address places where "much hurt comes to rest" they sing "O holy life" and frame a time that was "a good day . . . full of miracles."
Sara Berkeley Tolchin was born in Dublin in 1967 and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and the University of California, Berkeley. Her first collection of poems, Penn, was published to unprecedented critical acclaim when she was just 19, and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards and the Sunday Tribune Arts Awards. Since then she...
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Title:What Just HappenedFormat:PaperbackDimensions:67 pages, 8.26 × 5.48 × 0.19 inPublished:September 7, 2016Publisher:Sentient PublicationsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1591812860

ISBN - 13:9781591812869

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Reviews

Editorial Reviews

I know only two Irish poets who emerged into public consciousness while in their late teens with their core poetic voice fully formed. The first was Michael Hartnett whose early poems can still live alongside - and throw light on - his great later work. The other poet, Sara Berkeley, was a Dublin schoolgirl in 1986 when her vivid poems attracted national attention, due to the same sense that she already had a completely formed voice. Her voice has deepened in the decades since, as the superb poems in this - her sixth collection - testify. Boris Pasternak once noted, "To live your life is not as simple as to cross a field" - and Berkeley's voice is enriched here by confronting issues of loss and grief without ever losing that spacious and deeply considered understatement which lies at the heart of her work. This careful avoidance of pyrotechnics or superfluous flourishes roots her work deeply into a reality that is at once everyday and yet utterly changed as much by what is left unsaid as what she says. You see it in the title poem here. It explores a relationship in the aftermath of an unnamed rift after which nothing has changed on the surface and yet "We are in a different place now. the air's a differnet shape/no colours I've ever seen." In an example of how her work is deeply personal without ever being confessional, the poem then veers away from this singular event to examine how coalminers "are trained when things go wrong/to lie on the ground, breathe slow and shallow/wait until the light breaks at last/through a chink and they are found." This deft, quiet switch moves the poem from being about one personal crisis to a more universal sense of how crises engulf us all in life, leaving us so emotionally flattened that we are unsure "when we'll be done/with all the shallow breathing/and the energy conservation". Berkeley's debut appeared in 1989 when she was nineteen. While still a student in Trinity College she was represented in major anthologies like The Penguin Book of Irish Verse and The Field Day Anthology. One academic at that time conducting a solemn volume of interviews with British and Irish female writers, noted that while Berkeley dutifully answered all her questions, she spent the interview glancing over the interview's shoulder in the Buttery restaurant, unable to disguise a desire to re-join her friends and her real life at a nearby table.As Berkeley notes in a brilliant poem, "Famine Cottages", in this new book: "New Year's Eve/1993, I flew across/an ocean and six thousand miles to be/where I am now,/and this is how/I've lived my adult life - away from/my original home, in a new place/with new people, an about face/from all I'd known." Out of sight, out of mind, has often been the fate of Irish poets who live abroad and miss out on the oxygen of publicity from live appearances. Her very deliberate absenting of herself from Ireland has meant that Berkeley has never received the critical attention here that her work deserves and initially received.In 2005 her first Gallery Press book, Strawberry Thief, broke a decade of silence and explored her new life in America in three sequences. These charted the difficult break-up of an early marriage, the joy of entering a new relationship and a final suite celebrating her daughter's birth. This was followed in 2010 with The View from Here - shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award. Her new collection therefore completes an American trilogy.Each volume has grown in depth. Serious poetry readers should seek out those earlier books, while starting with this new volume, informed by exile and the tensions and duality of existing between two versions of home. Berkeley lives with her husband and daughter north of San Francisco where she works as a hospice nurse. The everyday experience of living so close to the realities of death pervades parts of this book; in poems reflecting on nursing; in poems that mourn the early death of her first husband, and in poems that explore the relationships between mothers and daughters, written in the shadow of her mother's final illness in Ireland. Emotionally it can at times a difficult book stemming from Berkeley's refusal to avoid reality or seek comfort in platitudes. Yet while some poems are heart-breaking, they never lose their poise or sharply minted clarity and, in poems like "Cracking Open" or "What's it all For" her antenna are tuned to gleamed moments of true happiness. This is an impressively memorable volume by a poet who writes from the perspective of someone who "for so long. have been other/insular, a foreigner who a buried idiom."; someone who carefully staked out her chosen space of "the airport departure lounges, the agonised farewells,/and now these hills, my northern moon,/my pre-dawn birds." Read it and enjoy.