‘This is life at the bottom looking up at the stars’ – Everything Else We Must Endure by Brian McGettrick

Brian McGettrick’s debut poetry collection appears through Sunnyoutside Press, a small poetry publisher (is there any other kind?) from the US (which begs the question why no English poetry publisher – your Bloodaxe, your Salt – has picked up on McGettrick, especially when you go on to consider how good this collection is).

Everything Else We Must Endure runs to 34 poems over 52 pages (the attractive book slim enough for just about any pocket) and centres in the main on a Bukowski-ish stew of drunkeness, failed relationships (‘nothing was blessed, nothing was new’ McGettrick intones in stand-out ‘very brief affair’),  and lives spent in bars (opener ‘in those sunless rooms’ considers ‘the symphonic touch of ice against glass’ which ‘accompanies heavy hands hitting the bar like starter pistols’), albeit filtered through an ardent attempt to find beauty in the every day (one of my favourites in the collection, ‘my masterpiece’, seems to concern a father sitting besides his daughter as she paints:

and she lets me know

that she is a good painter

I nod and agree

telling her it’s a masterpiece

but she disagrees –

it is not a masterpiece, it is a butterfly’).

 

McGettrick’s characters inhabit the nine-to-five workaday world. ‘hounded, bound, ruined, cast out’ is a good example:

men

convulsed and exhausted

by compulsory overtime

use the remainder of their courage

to get home, eat, then drink

to anaesthetize the all-over ache’.

 

Their sorrows are hidden (‘I found out over coffee, a danish and a donut’ opens ‘let’s try to keep the kids / out of this one’), their loved ones are best fondly remembered than actually experienced in the day to day (my favourite poem here might be ‘pruning the undesired’ in which our nameless protagonist talks of ‘the mistake of pared back passion’) and their joys are brief, scant but important for all that  (in ‘following their orders’, there is a moment, ‘a smell / of burning toast and frying bacon’,

and for a while

there is a restfulness,

a break from people simply repeating

what they’ve been told.

 

McGettrick then runs with a kind of hewn dirty realism, this is life at the bottom looking up at the stars, everything is lost and yet, for all that, there is hope and possibility and the sense that things could get better (even though they probably won’t). ‘before the alarm’ runs in its entirety:

lying beside

you in the

split light

before everything

contained in this

day starts up

feels

almost

perfect,

having

given up

looking

for

perfection

long ago.

 

Any Cop?: I loved this. I’m not a massive poetry buff or anything but I read and liked and understood and was moved by this and you can’t really ask for more from a book of poetry than that, I think. Recommended.

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