Book Review: Circling for Gods

Circling for Gods, by Jo Burns, is a pamphlet poetry collection that brings together twenty-one of the author’s works, many previously published in a variety of literary journals.

It opens with The Mid-Ulster Machinery Museum which succinctly evokes the experience of growing up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

“And every child knew the meaning of strange words
like denomination and sectarian. And we happily played
Across the Barricades, acting Kevin and Sadie, unaware
that most don’t look under cars before they can even drive.”

I recognised much in this excellent portrayal. During my own Belfast upbringing we did not burn Guy Fawkes, whose day was ignored in favour of Halloween when we too enjoyed the activities listed. Our bonfires were lit on 11th July and the effigy burned was papal.

The collection continues with reminiscences of family and death, the culture realistically presented yet emanating deft and often enchanting imagery.

There are poems on inheritance and travel, the narrator’s nomadic lifestyle abruptly curtailed as is poignantly described in Conception.  

“I lie, this night, pregnant, propped to dream,
searching for some tool, to pull this news
through needle eye, to sew,

to stitch the world down to what I know.
The night is a bar over the anvil of fear.
The bar – the mother I hope I will be.”

This is followed by Cosmology, on the birth of the baby and how children will inevitably grow away. The mother, once the centre of his universe, must accept a lesser role. Her life, rewritten for the child, must adapt again.

The poems on parenthood are powerful. The anguish of a child’s illness palpable.

Returning to the theme of travel the author explores language as well as place. Later poems also look at faith. They find that reverence is more likely made real within the beauty of nature rather than in a church.

The collection concludes with Texere Noctum

“In brilliance, new threads
of possibility sing

Weave. Weave your life well.”

Many of the works possess an undercurrent of affirmation, even those dealing with difficult, painful subjects. The collection is rich, empathetic and, as fine poems should be, emotionally resonant.


My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author after her publisher, Eyewear, went on extended hiatus. Her latest collection, White Horses, will be published by Turas Press in November 2018.

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