Published by Bloodaxe Books
Goat’s Milk is a comprehensive retrospective of the work of Frank Ormsby, a central figure in the poetry of Northern Ireland for the past forty years.
James Simmons praised the ‘not so simple humanity’ of his early poems and their revelation of ‘quotidian miracles’. His first collection, A Store of Candles (1977), ranges in setting from Fermanagh, the border county in Northern Ireland where he grew up, to Troubles-torn Belfast, where he attended Queen’s University in the late 1960s and which has been his home ever since. The lyrics in that collection often explore the intersection of private lives and public events, a preoccupation evident again in A Northern Spring (1986), where the central sequence re-creates the lives of American GIs stationed in Fermanagh in 1944 preparing for the Normandy landings. Ormsby here seeks to undermine the polarities of Northern Ireland by focussing on visitors to and settlers in the North – engaging ultimately with what he calls ‘the air-wide skin-tight multiple meaning of here’.
The complexities of ‘here’ and ‘home’ are to the fore again in The Ghost Train (1995), which is built around a more directly personal sequence about the joys and anxieties of expecting a child while a particularly bloody phase of the Troubles edges towards the first rumours of peace.
In his most recent poems Ormsby brings a new directness and simplicity to bear on the rural Fermanagh of his boyhood. A series of vignettes evokes his formative years, both his experience of division and loss (the impact of his father’s death is a constant theme in Ormsby’s work), but also the enriching aspects of family and community and of the natural world. These poems deepen and extend themes central to the earlier work. They also reflect what The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature describes as Ormsby’s gift for a ‘poetry of resonant minutiae’ which 'celebrates the neglected recesses of the commonplace'.
'Frank Ormsby belongs to that extraordinary generation of Northern Irish poets which includes Ciaran Carson, Medbh McGuckian, Paul Muldoon and Tom Paulin. He is a poet of the truest measure… From his earliest work Ormsby has favoured a natural shapeliness. The critic Eve Patten praises "his defiant attachment to economy of form"… A plain-speaking, down-to-earth utterance may be the norm, but it teeters on the verge of taking flight, and sometimes gives way to an exquisitely refined lyricism’ – Michael Longley.