Ghost Estate

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Irish Times review by Borbála Faragó

William Wall’s Ghost Estate (Salmon Poetry, 143pp, €12) takes its title from the vast number of unfinished estates that remain uninhabited since Ireland’s economic breakdown. The title poem’s eerie refrain “if you lived here / you’d be home by now” reverberates in the emptiness of the unlived environment, culminating with the painful recognition that “it’s all over now”. Wall’s poems oscillate between depicting total devastation and hope that is found in humanity’s empathy towards the other.

The poems look for points of uncertainty, the in-between and transient expressions of what it means to be human. On Stones, a witty sequence about the multiple interpretations of stone as object of home, eternity, weapon or meaning, claims that “things are classified / by their mutability”. On a societal level Wall’s poems mourn the present state of Ireland but also berate the human greed and selfishness that caused the country’s downfall.

On a personal level poems explore the sites of fear, anxiety and hope, constantly searching for meaning within the uncertain. Letter to a Doctor metaphorically interprets a medical camera’s search for illness within the body as humanity’s futile attempt to find its locus of meaning within life: “you & I are transiting / the great digestive tract / that is the world,” the speaker says, then concludes that there is “no way out / the world is everything”.

Anxiety is also manifest in Wall’s poems about the environment. His apocalyptic vision of the ecological demise of our planet is suffused with humility and resignation where the global catastrophe is transformed “into a universal truth / the days are shorter / today than yesterday”. Death, whether environmental or personal, takes central stage in the collection. In Flying Towards a Funeral he recounts with great sadness and empathy the inevitable passing of time as “this cumulus of grief / this near miss in time” where “we feel temporary / too late”.

One of the best poems in the volume is Eight Observations About Hope , a witty and cinematic snapshot of images that does not express hope but observes it. Although hope remains hidden and inaccessible, it materialises in the very act of looking for it.

William Wall has a masterful capacity to depict ambiguity. The striking lack of punctuation throughout the volume and the hidden motifs of thresholds vividly capture transience and doubt as the essence of frail humanity.


RTÉ Radio ‘Arena’ review by Colm Keegan and Kathy D’Arcy

Click here to be taken to the ‘Arena’ Page. The review link is half-way down.


Irish Left Review

Review by Sarah Clancy

‘…& are we supposed to sympathise

when the gentry find themselves

in the same boat

or plane

as everyone else?’

From ‘Job in Heathrow’

William Wall is a novelist, poet and blogger. I better ‘fess up straight away that ever since I read William’s Booker Prize long- listed novel ‘This is the Country’ I have been a fan of his work.

This collection of poems has landed right on time for our Ireland of 2011 and not just in the obviously contemporary title poem ‘Ghost Estate’.  The poems range from the very personal to the overtly and unapologetically political. The collection as a whole works as an astute and artful commentary on who we are in the recessionary times we find ourselves in.  Right from the foreboding image of a steel padlock on the cover I was drawn into a startlingly diverse and image packed collection that wears its left wing politics on its sleeve.  More than politics though, this is poetry doing exactly what I believe poetry is for - challenging us to try on new ways of seeing familiar things.

Ghost Estate does not read like an Irish poet’s book, the settings for its poems range from Cork to Italy and beyond and in many cases features of the natural world from all of these places are combined in the same poems. It also trips the reader lightly through the nearer geographies of family, health and frailty with a wry and self effacing humour such as in the plaintive ‘ I am not well at all’ refrain that William uses in the  long poem ‘Behind a hospital in somewhere in Italy’.

It is in poems such as the darkly funny ‘We Imagine the Police’ that Wall’s craft is apparent. This is a poem, which in less sure hands could be an off- putting zealot’s rant against consumerism. However, Wall puts himself centre stage. He drags us in by using ‘we’ repeatedly so the poem never descends into preaching, and it is through this use of his ‘writerly’ trick of pairing humility and humour that the reader remains receptive to the final lines which are a reflection on absurdity and our shared mortality;

  1. & a fold up tent

  2. for when we fold our tent

  3. & a wallet full of promises

  4. that there will still be shopping

  5. no matter how dark the times.

It might not be a coincidence given its leftist slant, that the book reads as the work of an internationalist albeit with a definite Cork turn of phrase. The poems in Ghost Estate, read together, make up a compendium of what we have worth saving. Whether the writer likes it or not even at their bleakest these are hopeful, curious, life- affirming poems.  Though it’s impossible just now NOT to read this book as contemporary and engaged wholly in the world as it is, I also have a feeling that these are poems that will last and last.

In case I have put you off by calling this an overtly political work - don’t read Ghost Estate expecting to discover any tired formulaic dogma - this is poetry from a man who is clearly in love with words and at the risk of sounding overly romantic it is the work of a writer full of love for our flawed world.   Wall’s poems are deceptive; though often short or written in sequence with short sparsely worded stanzas , there are many poems here that reveal layer after layer of meaning on each successive reading.  Stylistically the poet uses clear language and practically no punctuation. I may be nit picking to point it out in a book of such obvious craft, but I wasn’t mad about the frequent use of ampersands and found them somewhat distracting. It may seem an odd comment to make in a review of a book that is often caustic, sardonic and doesn’t pull even one punch that it could conceivably throw, but this is a collection thats lingering motif is one of kindness.

  1. ‘’I never consider

  2. the meaning of love

  3. knowing is less important

  4. than being

  5. & feeling…”

            From the sequence Urchin

The masterful poem ‘In Forli I dreamed’ reproduced  below shows how William, expertly and in very few words, can conspire to combine an unflinching look at unpalatable truths with humour and humanity - Wall specialises in this - if this unpredictable writer has a trope or a tendency it is a fierce facing up to the truth of things.  If ever there was a poem for the zeitgeist this is it;

  1. In Forli I Dreamed

  2. for Adele D’Arcangelo

  3. that they made my bed

  4. of all the things that Europe did

  5. blood & the dead

  6. stony futures

  7. torture loss

  8. I dreamed

  9. I woke in pain

  10. & all my friends were there

  11. I said this is the bed that Europe made

  12. the worst bed in the world

  13. why me

  14. & someone said

  15. everyone sleeps here once

  16. count yourself lucky

  17. that it came to you

  18. on a night such as this

  19. the moon on the campanile

  20. the cloisters & the wine

  21. while we were here in Forli

  22. & I slept again

  23. & dreamed some other dream

  24. now gone

  25. & woke in the early morning

  26. cold.

Ghost Estate is a long collection (reportedly these poems were written over seven years). It’s a big book in every sense of the word- it’s not possible to do it justice here in anyway other than to entreat you to read it slowly and often, and to assure you that it will repay your effort in spades.  As our small Island nation weathers an economic, political and identity crisis the very few works like this one that pay lip-service to no one should be required reading.

  1. ..who listens to eulogies

  2. though they may be well done

  3. & occasionally necessary

            From ‘In Memory of David Marcus’



Review by Philip Coleman

Link to a very complete review by Philip Coleman in Southword literary magazine


Links related to Ghost Estate

Some thoughts on the writing of a book of poems An occasional essay

Farmgate Café Poem of the Month (requires Facebook account)

Poem of The Day at

Interview with Upstart at

Poem ‘In The Museums’ in Irish Left Review

Poem ‘Ghost Estate’ in Irish Left Review

Poem: ‘Counterpoint’ (translation of a poem by William Stabile)