Written in the aftermath of the death of his wife Bernie in 2010, this honest, open and revealing new collection of poetry, The Venice Suite, is a deeply personal sequence of poems that charts the author's experience of sudden bereavement. It explores the stages and states of loss in an irrevocably altered world, where one partner is left behind to deal with the on-going business of living while trying to comprehend the enormity of the severance of a shared life suddenly rendered into the past tense. They manage to be richly tender love poems while trying to map the unknown new territory in which any bereaved person finds themselves. The Venice Suite is published by New Island Books and available post free from them (see www.newisland.ie for more details).
EARLY PRESS REVIEWS
"Dermot Bolger's The Venice Suite, a sequence of unforgettable poems about bereavement, kindles hope through the courageous dignity of the writing" - Joseph O'Connor - Irish Times Books of the Year 2012.
"Poetry has come to seem for many people a marginal form, yet there are times in which it is the only form that's adequate. Dermot Bolger's slim collection, The Venice Suite, subtitled A Vovage Through Loss, is a kind of memorial card for his wife, Bernie, who died suddenly in 2010. He navigates that voyage with great skill and grace. In their deeply moving elegance, these poems will help many people dealing with loss." - Fintan O'Toole, Irish Times
"The poet's energetic and youthful wife, Bernie, died of an undiagnosed, ruptured aortic aneurysm on a trolley in Dublin's Mater Hospital. The poems that followed her loss are collected here in an elegant memorial. They are reconstructions of raw emotion, both harrowing and edifying; the poems are perpetually rushing home to meet her… In the penultimate "Where We are Now" a huge moon on its 20-year cycle attends upon their sons and a group of friends, who celebrate the lunar visitor with guitars, mandolin and long-necked foreign beers. This is a moving and wonderful poem of inclusion and remembrance. The entire collection works as a marvellous elegy. Grief is called up and colours everything Bolger does with his technical excellence. Heart-breaking." - Thomas McCarthy - Irish Examiner.
This is Where We are (below) is the concluding poem in a sequence, "The Venice Suite", that no poet would wish to write. Its memories are unique to me, yet its voyage of loss is undertaken by thousands - sometimes with huge support, like I was privileged to receive - but often in isolation.
In 2010 my wife, Bernie, collapsed while swimming with one of our sons. She had no symptoms of ill health and no thoughts of death before death cruelly thought of her. I was beside her when she died from an undiagnosed ruptured aneurysm on a trolley in Dublin's Mater Hospital, still awaiting the doctor assigned to her.
Numb with grief, I have no recollection of writing poems. But sorting through drawers, eighteen months on, I found multiple scraps of paper tucked away: barely legible lines scribbled on envelopes that were not poems, but notes left to myself during the first dark year of mourning. Reshaping them into poems allowed me to confront that initial grieving process and try to imagine myself into the different life I now lead.
These memories are unique to me, but their underlying emotions are not. Thousands of people articulate the emotions expressed here with greater eloquence in the silence of their hearts than I managed by reconstructing thoughts first scribbled down on whatever scrap of paper came to hand.
Where we are now
Three years have passed since a day of incessant snow
That halted at midnight, when I ventured with our boys
Through the unchained park gates opposite our house
Into a white moonscape untainted by footstep or bird claw.
Squadrons of swollen clouds impeded any moon or starlight,
Allowing an eerie luminosity to emanate from the ground.
Branches overburdened, benches twice their natural size:
Each everyday object transformed into a source of light.
The ordinary made wondrous: rendered gleaming at midnight.
We three raced home to try and lure you from your bed
To share in our witnessing of this miraculous spectacle,
But you complained you were sleepy, snuggled down,
You waved aside each entreaty as we begged you to come:
"Not tonight", you said, "not now, but I promise the next time."
None of us could have conceived that when the snow next fell
It would cover your grave for weeks, leaving us shell-shocked,
Mutely comforting each other as we mourned your absent radiance.
Two years after your death I have finally built our extension,
With six feet of balustraded decking, five steps above the garden.
Our sons have converted it into an impromptu amphitheater.
Tonight its recessed lights are abetted by the colossal supermoon
That occurs each twenty years, when its orbit is nearest the earth.
Guitars and a mandolin have been brought out to accompany songs
Composed by your sons and their friends, interspersed with old tunes
You would love to hear, as lads pass around long-necked foreign beers.
We three have known grief; have carried coffins thrice in two years,
But tonight is serenely beautiful: this is where we are, in this moment
That cannot be repeated. You'd love to sit here, but if you were in bed
I would need to plead and coax you to get dressed and wander down,
With you protesting: "Not tonight, not now, but I promise the next time."
Next time a supermoon occurs our sons will be forty and forty-one:
I may be a pensioner of seventy-three or be long since deceased.
I don't know what or where I will be, I am robbed of all certainty,
Liberated from trying to predict the future or shield you from it.
I know only the single lesson we have been taught by your death:
There is no next time; no moment will replicate the wonder of now.
I feel you have moved on and I possess no desire to hold you back:
But, just this once, don't say "Not tonight, but I promise the next time";
Don't argue or prevaricate, but let your ghost come and sit, unnoticed,
On the wooden steps of this moonlit deck that throbs with song.
Be with us, for the eternity of this supermoon, as guitars change hands:
See what fine sons you blessed the world with; what good friends
They have summoned around them with music and chilled beer.
Two years on and this is where we are: mourning you deeply still,
Yet moving on, as we must move on: our eldest finished his degree,
Our youngest immersed in college life, their dad in a battered hat
Joining the gathering briefly to sit and share shots of Jagearmeister.
We don't know where you are, but we are finding ourselves again.
I don't know if ghosts exist or just a welcoming emptiness awaits:
All I know is that, if you were here, dragged protesting from bed,
You would love to hear these songs, these subtle guitar riffs.
So, whether your ghost sits here or not, I want you to know we are okay
As I call you back to be with us one last time and then let you depart.