First, we had the VIDA count, which was both elating and depressing all in one breath. Then my good Celtic Music friend reminded me that St. Patrick’s Day is coming on fast. We will not tell Gran that I forgot. Shhhhhh!
What is important to note is that these things got me thinking about all the fine Irish ladies who are writing today, and I wanted to share some of their gorgeous collections with you. A few faces may be familiar, but most won’t. I hope you come to love their work as much as I do.
[ Oh, and some of these have Youtube readings attached because I finally figured out how to do that. ]
Shelia O’ Hagan is Dublin born and based. Her writing began in the 80’s at Birkbeck College, London University, and she has won many awards since. Her most recent collection is both poems and short stories. It’s titled, Along The Liffey: Poems and Short Storiesfrom Salmon Poetry.
PAINTING SEAMUS HEANEY
Here is the task, old man
Note the distance
between man and mask
Mould well the dome of the head
Inscrutable rock that puts clout
on the words to be read
Score well the line between soul and eye
Let light stream in
like underwater images of sky
Hold out for definition.
Be exact with the pitch of intellect
and scrutinise the gift
But who is this sitter you call
as open as the dawn
solid as the rocks of Donegal?
The Irish poet. And yourself?
Rembrandt, of course.
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill is one of the few contemporary poets writing in Irish (Gaelic). Fortunately, her work has been translated by Heaney, McGuckian and others. The Fifty Minute Mermaid is her fourth collection with Gallery Press, translated by Paul Muldoon.
MERMAID IN THE HOSPITAL
to find her fishtail
but in the bed with her
were two long, cold thingammies.
You’d have thought they were tangles of kelp
or collops of ham.
“They’re no doubt
taking the piss,
it being New Year’s Eve.
Half the staff legless
and the other half
Still, this is taking it
a bit far.”
And with that she hurled
the two thingammies out of the room.
But here’s the thing
she still doesn’t get—
why she tumbled out after them
How she was connected
to those two thingammies
and how they were connected
It was the sister who gave her the wink
and let her know what was what.
“You have one leg attached to you there
and another one underneath that.
One leg, two legs…
A-one and a-two…
Now you have to learn
what they can do.”
In the long months
I wonder if her heart fell
the way her arches fell,
her instep arches.
Paula Meehan is also Dublin-born and based. Mysteries of the Homecombines two of her most praised collections, The Man Who Was Markedby Winter and Pillow Talk into one hard-hitting volume. Available from Dedalus Press.
I know this path by magic not by sight.
Behind me on the hillside the cottage light
is like a star that’s gone astray. The moon
is waning fast, each blade of grass a rune
inscribed by hoarfrost. This path’s well worn.
I lug a bucket by bramble and blossoming blackthorn.
I know this path by magic not by sight.
Next morning when I come home quite unkempt
I cannot tell what happened at the well.
You spurn my explanation of a sex spell
cast by the spirit who guards the source
that boils deep in the belly of the earth,
even when I show you what lies strewn
in my bucket — a golden waning moon,
seven silver stars, our own porch light,
your face at the window staring into the dark.
Mary O’Malley hails from Connemara, Co. Galway. She has published many award-winning collections including her most recent with Carcanet Press. My favorite, The Knife in the Wave is from Salmon Poetry.
Say mackerel shoaled through the lullabies
Wrens circled Christ’s head and drank Mary’s tears;
Say each love song was a festival of desire
And allow that the touch of some shapeless thing
Sickened his mind one night between bog and shore –
When he turned his back on his children
And cut their mother out of his life
He was harder than Connemara stone.
Old women pulled shawls over their faces
The silence of daughters descended
Our memories closed into a fist
And there was blood on the moon.
Medbh McGuckian is a native of Belfast with degrees from The Queen’s University of Belfast where she studied under Seamus Heaney and was the first woman to be named writer-in-residence in that university. The High Caul Cap from Gallery Press is the latest of over a dozen volumes of poetry.
THESE LATINIZED SNOWS
This room should be read as a preface
to an experience which occurred
many miles before: light-of-day
simplicity in the administered space,
accepting the pre-set view,
though belts of country miles in width
have been swept away.
The electric fluid has taken to carrying
the mail, like a blood-opening heart buried under
a sundial, or the undiluted Nile.
By quietly slipping in the word ‘eva’ (‘only’),
those who delicately thread the needles
lay a motionless finger on a forearm
to show through this so-called non-blue
otherwise sheltering the dance the woman
is about to break into, wearing her belatedness
like a far grander blanket.
Long after other fireplaces have subsided
two savage arcs are flaming like weeds
in snow from end to end of your lovely,
symbolic city where one day
marketgoers would again arrive by train …
As when a younger-sister-haunted older
daughter finds in the messy street debris
stretch marks on the trunk of an aspen,
etchings of beetles on the tree bark:
or when I photographed the births of my three
children, each in their turn, I saw
that with their first intake of breath
their whole bodies were suffused
with off-hour rainbowing, from head to toe.
Mary O’ Donnell comes from Co. Monaghan but studied for some time in Germany. She has taught at Trinity College Dublin and is currently a poetry mentor with Carlow University, Pittsburgh. Her fifth collection of poetry, The Ark Builders is published by Arc Publications.
That mono-brow wouldn’t work today.
Girls wax the in-betweens, the ups and
downs, smooth, smooth. Sometimes,
the greenery around the hacienda
itches so much we sneeze and tickle,
create unnecessary frowns, a slippage.
There’s always Dr. Death, of course,
his bright smile, that happy mouth
inviting us to pout and make kiss shapes, Kiss, kiss! Kiss, kiss! he urges. His short needle
makes cushions of our worries. Little prick here,
another there, there, there, it’s all right darlings, growing old needn’t hurt so badly.
The hairs remind us, marching to link brow
to brow, shadowing our lips.
We want to be Frida, earnest with hair,
mocking Dr. Death’s short needle
before it punctures our flesh. Old, old! we shout the words he hates, loose and old, not tight and old!
Senses, raging, in need of colour
as we behold ourselves, mirror-wise,
the women we always were,
just older, looser, still there.
Enda Wyley hails from Dublin and is also a popular children’s writer and primary school teacher. Her fourth volume, To Wake to This is from Dedalus Press.
Eavan Boland also hails from Dublin and is the daughter of a diplomat and post-expressionist painter. She has won numerous awards for her poetry and is a regular reviewer for the Irish Times. She currently teaches and directs the creative writing program at Stanford. New and Collected Poem includes selections from previous collections as well as new work.
THAT THE SCIENCE OF CARTOGRAPHY IS LIMITED
—and not simply by the fact that this shading of
forest cannot show the fragrance of balsam,
the gloom of cypresses,
is what I wish to prove.
When you and I were first in love we drove
to the borders of Connacht
and entered a wood there.
Look down you said: this was once a famine road.
I looked down at ivy and the scutch grass
rough-cast stone had
disappeared into as you told me
in the second winter of their ordeal, in
1847, when the crop had failed twice,
Relief Committees gave
the starving Irish such roads to build.
Where they died, there the road ended
and ends still and when I take down
the map of this island, it is never so
I can say here is
the masterful, the apt rendering of
the spherical as flat, nor
an ingenious design which persuades a curve
into a plane,
but to tell myself again that
the line which says woodland and cries hunger
and gives out among sweet pine and cypress,
and finds no horizon
will not be there.
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin is a native of Cork, but is currently residing in Dublin, working with Trinity College. She has won numerous rewards for her poetry and is also known for her translation work. Her collection The Sun-Fish is from Gallery Press.
Deirdre Hines grew up in Belfast and Co. Donegal. Also a playwright with degrees in English and Theatre studies, her first poetry collection, The Language of Coats is now out from New Island Books.
That’s all for you, chickies! But head on over to my Amazon list to see two additional poets (both men).