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.
Ormsby’s fourth collection, Fireflies (2009), reflects both the legacy of four decades of violence and the confident regeneration under way in Northern Ireland. Yet another sequence – a favourite structuring device in Ormsby’s poetry – is located in an area of New York State where the poet has been a visitor for over twelve years and records the liberating excitement of elsewhere and its fresh perspective on the familiar.
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
‘Goat’s Milk: New and Selected Poems, by Frank Ormsby, reminds us why we missed this poet’s wry and concise voice during the 14-year gap in his writing life; and the new poems extend and ratify his unique angle of vision.’ – Patricia Craig, Irish Times (Books of the Year 2015)
‘Continuing an impressively strong start to the year for Irish poetry… Frank Ormsby’s latest is both a retrospective as well as a vehicle for new work. It evokes both his family life and Fermanagh’s rural past in a poetic form which, as Michael Longley puts it, “teeters on the verge of taking flight”.’ – Michael Conaghan, Belfast Telegraph
‘Reading these new poems and returning to those read decades ago has been a delight because Ormsby is a poet of enviable gifts. He has a fine ear and a sharp eye and, above all, his poems are memorable.’ – David Cooke, The Manchester Review
North America: Wake Forest University Press.