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Dylan Brennan, originally from Dublin but currently based in Mexico, is a poet, memoirist, essayist and researcher. His debut poetry collection, Blood Oranges (The Dreadful Press, 2014), received the runner-up prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Award.
The poems that comprise Blood Oranges are steeped in the soil, culture and history of Mexico. Although it is a poetry collection, Dylan has made obvious use of his skill in the fields of memoir and research in order to fully explore and exhibit his relationship with his adopted land. On a purely sensuous level there is plenty to engage with and enjoy; certain poems, Tabula Rasa in particular, beg to be read aloud such is their linguistic allure. Form-wise, Dylan is comfortable moving from couplets to sonnets to prose poems, with an experimental triptych (featuring a prominent redacted middle section) thrown in for good measure.
Inevitably, there are poems that stand out. For me, the first of these was Bones of Anonymous Children, which I first read and published over a year ago on The Bohemyth, and which deals with the subject of religious sacrifice—its obvious but sensitively-handled connection to the unfolding Tuam Babies scandal a sign of Dylan’s ability to link and illuminate the history of two countries separated both geographically and temporally.
Now In Rainbows and The Men in Fake Uniforms both deal with the more extreme and violent nature of Mexico. A memoriam to a friend called Garo, Now In Rainbows details how:
From Brownsville to Matamoros / he had crossed to visit his parents. / There were signs of torture. / He had rented a car.
—Now In Rainbows, Blood Oranges
The definitive facts listed leaving room for the unimaginable. Prose poem The Men in Fake Uniforms gives us an account of how easy and brutal it is to disappear, making great use of different narrative viewpoints.
The Market of Colour is one of the seemingly simpler, yet more affecting, poems:
This is the place where Jesus / lurks on every corner promising salvation / and clean air in the next life.
—The Market of Colour, Blood Oranges
A quick insight into a country of strange dichotomies; where faith and violence exist so ardently.
The collection does have some problems that readers may find off-putting, not least of which is the depository of knowledge concerning Mexican history it requires to really appreciate the poems to their fullest, but ultimately this is a small price to pay for what Dylan is offering. Blood Oranges is a fine collection and one that marks the start of what is sure to be an interesting exploration. I look forward to seeing where Dylan goes next.