In the Realm of Spirit: Psalms from a Mountain
John A. Brennan
Escribe Publishing Inc.
ISBN: 9781722290641 Price: $14.95
The man sitting in the back row of the meeting room had an uncommon brogue, not the Galway or Clare brogues of my family. Could he be a “left-footer” like our young speaker, a novelist from Northern Ireland? That man with the Armagh brogue was, we discovered, the man who took the road less traveled—and, Oh what a difference John A. Brennan has made for us in the Irish Cultural Society of Long Island. John was for us a “keeper.” We found that John Brennan’s intimacy with the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries of Irish history helped him to create a refreshingly ancient ambiance at his talks at our meetings. He made Irish history our history; his “we,” “us,” and “our” were his usual pronouns, reminding us that we share the history and stories of his talk. We left his meetings as more Irish, proud that we shared St. Patrick, the Irish monks of Iona, and Cuchulain and other mythic heroes with the Irish from the “Old Country.”
As a writer, John’s natural poetic style uses indirection to great effect. He entices the readers of his essay “The Master” published in the newsletter of the Irish Cultural Society to infer that the master was St. Patrick. His style in In The Realm of Spirit also challenges his readers not just to read but to engage with the poems: Is this poem about St. Brendan the Navigator? Is this poem about the Crucifixion? Is the Dreamer in this poem John Brennan, whom we know is a person who wishes to fly, to take chances like Prometheus? John the poet invites not right or wrong answers but rather promotes engagement with his art. he dreamer is, indeed, John Brennan who refuses to die with regrets. He proved to the nay saying “boyos” who told him he would never pass the tests to become a custodial engineer that John Brennan is a yea sayer. He proved to himself that a working class Irishman could publish five books and win awards while doing so. He proved that grit and determination are wonderful complements to intelligence. He proved that the Irish can still produce heroes of resilience in today’s world.
John Brennan did not have to study the parallelism, alliteration, and the rhythm which add pace and depth to his prose poems. The power of poetry comes naturally to a man from ancient Ireland who has steeped himself in Ireland’s myths and legends. I like to think that it is probable that John fought in the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne to claim ownership of a book; doesn’t the Irish literary tradition suggest that the Irish will wage war over books? It is likely, too, that John was the monk who was saved from the Loch Ness monster by St. Columcille; didn’t most of the Irish saints earn their sainthood by rescuing Irish poets? John A. Brennan brings the magic and melody of poetic inspiration to the world. Enjoy the experience.
John M. Walsh. Editor
Irish Cultural Society
In the Realm of Spirit: Psalms from a Mountain is prose poetry at its strongest but does not always appear in the stanza format that is usual for poetic efforts. The result is often 'somewhere in between', a state of journeying described in a prose poem of the same name: "Somewhere between the fork in the road and the narrow, overgrown path lies the way to the true destination..."
Poetry enthusiasts not wedded to the idea that verse need be measured and fit into a given format will relish John A. Brennan's diverse collection for its flowing, descriptive language of personal, cultural and physical journeys and for its metaphors and meaning. This is not to say that such a form doesn't exist, here: prose poems are interspersed with thought-provoking passages that represent a strong poetic heartbeat: "The stone-cold slab bruised hungry bones,/as he lay on the floor all alone./His life ebbed nigh, but his spirit held high,/as soon he would feast with his own."
His language strikes at the heart of mountains, men, and evolutionary processes of transformation, offering perspectives that are at once rooted in villages, mountains, and the rugged terrain of hearts and minds.
What evolves is an observational journey that follows mountains, valleys, and spiritual reflection alike: one that takes a progressive, haunting perspective as it traverses the hills and dales of an ancient land in search of those nuggets of enlightenment that stem from both a dispassionate observer and a nomad: "I’ve been down in the green valley, the holy place; the place where pagan and saint walk the blessed earth yet still, in silent mystic. The one where the river flows ever onward to its birthplace, carrying the tortured history, winding slow with measured precision, to cast upon the ocean."
Brennan juxtaposes these prose reflections with other verse that assumes the more familiar structure of poetry; but it should be noted that these are in fact psalms; and by nature can be recited, sung, or contemplated outside the usual vein of poetic literature.
The result is a set of observations, journeys, and revelations that touch upon history, moral compasses, the destinies of nations and the heart of the Irish soul. It's highly recommended for literary readers who would absorb both the history and individual impact of Ireland's ancient roots including the astute observations of "Gullion, the mountain of steep slopes."
Midwest Book Review
Editor, California Bookwatch