It is perhaps easiest to begin a discussion of Leontia Flynn’s delightful collection Profit and Loss (2011, Cape Poetry) where she does: with a house. Big or small, old or new, messy or clean, our homes are full of the evidence of our lives, stacked and piled around us. Flynn knows this well, as she begins her collection with “The Dream House.” This is a somewhat idyllic, sappy title for a poem laced all in the grubby goodness of lives lived. In the poem, Flynn takes us to a scene of a potential homebuyer visiting a house with “scores on the lino,” a “boot-print on the door,” “errant post-its/under old doormats,” and “watermarks and coffee-rings on worktops.” From this start, it’s clear this is a collection unconcerned with the pretty or traditionally poetic. Instead, Flynn’s poetry invests in and attends to the textures of everyday life. In glorifying “each loving grubby mark” made by previous tenants, Flynn manages to capture the tricky, fleeting feeling of starting a new life in someone else’s old home.
This approach is so telling of the rest of the poems that come; “The Dream House” kicks off the first section, entitled “Gothic,” which explores life by looking at various rooms, flats, and houses the speaker has encountered. Occasionally dark, these poems make deliciously economical use of the parts of our lives that we often send to the fringes; Flynn draws attention to the way that our surrounding mark and make our lives, often noting the sounds and smells that add texture. Refrigerators and heaters hum in the background of her poems while the air is curled with cigarette smoke. There is something quite literally down to earth about this section and the collection as a whole—in her frequent references to peeling old linoleum, stained carpets, and dingy, dusty stairways, Flynn draws the readers’ attention downward and inward. This comes with a heartiness, precision, and originality all her own.
As good as the first section is, it is the second section in Profit and Loss that truly sings. Unlike the first and the third, this middle section is not built of many but is instead one long poem. This poem, “Letter to Friends” is written with warmth and apparent ease. That is part of Flynn’s appeal, her text is deceptive—it feels free and casual, but her prose is controlled and doled out with care and affection. This section manages to take on climate change, the financial crisis of 2008, her father’s failing memory, the question of poetry’s value, social media, religion and more, but she does so readably and pleasantly, which is not an easy feat. Frankly put, this poem could have veered sharply into the pretentious or pontificating. Instead, by digging down into the ephemera of living, this time an old box full of “doodles, bills, old cards and prints,” Flynn keeps things intimate, honest, and real. This is poetry at its finest and is a poem to reread again and again.
Part of what makes Profit and Loss such a brilliant read is the clarity of Flynn’s voice; Flynn is a Northern Irish writer and the specificity of her language makes her work feel rooted in a particular place and time. There is a trustworthy, reliable precision to her poetry that feels cohesive across all three parts despite the subjects being loosely spread. The physical book contributes to the cohesion of the work; the cover features a smattering of birds that show up in her poetry from time to time, scattered not unlike loose receipts and ticket stubs. A quick and gutsy read, this collection is chock-full of grimy goodness and not to be missed.