Testament by Michael O’Siadhail — Book Review

by Patrice M. Wilson

(Review copy courtesy of Baylor University Press)

“Now I feel a deeper need to give testimony to a source that has sustained my life.”
(Testament, Foreword, p. vii)

After seventy plus years of life, Michael O’Siadhail relates to himself and his audience that he is now able to more directly acknowledge the Lord God in his poetry—something he felt reluctant to do in the past because of his fear of being rejected by the world. But, the presence of God in one’s work need not always be explicit; I believe readers will find or have found it implicit in his previous works as well. The point here is that the poet more consciously realizes that “Through you [the Lord] I gaze at all I love.”

I must say that the poems in this book, especially in the first section titled Psalter, do read like a series of 150 love letters to the Lord from the poet, reflecting the tones and moods of many of the Psalms in the Bible. Some ask questions that are born of pain and grief, but each of these is resolved by a “they that sow in tears reap with joy” theme or a thanksgiving for love that was here and is now gone or a Job-like admission: “you outstretched the sky not I”. Other poems celebrate life as gift from God, who Himself should be celebrated at the same time. 

Stimulating metaphors abound in his Psalter pieces, for instance: jazz, which is full of improvisational notes and unexpected riffs; dance, from go-go to hip-hop to the grand ballroom; music in general, which is referred to this way: “Past and present are the music of what is” (#12); God as lover, who may be hurt in His pursuit of our love if one of us spurns Him.

Further, I cannot remember reading more pleasant and enjoyable language uses and sounds in a group of poems than the ones in this book. I am most impressed with the excellence of the internal and end-rhyme, the alliteration, the line lengths and rhythms; these skillful qualities of the verses, stanzas and entire poems, though he does not these in all of them, I have never seen so consistently or effectively mastered as in O’Siadhail’s current publication.

The second section, titled Gospel, contains shortened poetic reiterations of passages, parables and stories from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in a chronological order, beginning with the poem “Zechariah” and ending with “Thomas.” The strength of O’Siadhail’s poetry does not diminish in this shorter part of the book; though the tone is less emotionally intense as the reader hears the poet stand back and tell the Gospel stories in his own delightful and insightful way. Some examples: “Undammed, a muteness overflows in praise” from the first poem in the section; “I will give you water that will burst/ Up to eternal life of sprung surprise” from the poem about the Samaritan woman; and the final message to all readers from “Thomas” echoes “Blest who have not seen and have believed.” This last line of the book reinforces current believers’ own gift of Faith, within the context of the poet’s experiences of this gift as set forth in his poems.

Uplifting and edifying, as well as personal and poignant, this collection is a must-read for poetry lovers of all kinds. I read it straight through and would not have stopped to pause for any reason; then I went through again to savor each poem. This is poetry at its best, and anyone who already knows any part of O’Siadhail’s extensive body of work will not be so much surprised as further gratified by this most recent achievement. Those who have not yet read any of his poems, as well as those who have, I believe, will be equally well-pleased.

Click here to purchase this book

Born Catholic in Newark NJ, raised in Catholic schools, Patrice M. Wilson has a PhD in English from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, having earned her MA there and her BA at the University of Maryland, College Park. She was editor of the very fine Hawaii Pacific Review for 16 years while teaching at Hawaii Pacific University. She has three chapbooks of poetry with Finishing Line Press, and one full-length poetry collection with Christian publisher eLectio Publishing. Dr. Wilson recently spent five years in the cloistered Carmelite monastery in Kaneohe, HI. She is now a retired professor living in Mililani, Oahu, HI.

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