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Best of Irish Poetry 2010
Editor: Matthew Sweeney
Songs of Earth and Light
Barbara Korun poems translated by Theo Dorgan
Done Dating DJs
by Jennifer Minniti-Shippey
Winner, 2008 Fool for Poetry Competition
Richesses: Francophone Songwriter Poets
Edited and translated by Aidan Hayes
Munster Literature Centre
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Jennifer Matthews was born in Columbia, Missouri in the USA. After studying for the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Northumbria she moved to Cork, Ireland in 2003 and continues to live there now. Aside from reviews, she also writes poetry and has been published in Mslexia, Revival and Poetry Salzburg, and has read her work at the New Writers Showcase in the Heaventree Poetry Festival in Coventry, UK. In 2010 she was anthologised in Dedalus's 2010 collection of immigrant poetry in Ireland, Landing Places.
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
I devoured Ní Chonchúir’s new short story collection in two sittings, like a sneaky box of chocolates best consumed when wrapped up in a duvet at night. The book itself is a kind of gallery, and its very-short short stories are sharp portraits of the characters’ lives. Being the kind of person who’d take the Tate Modern over the Tower of London, the Musée D’Orsay over the Eiffel Tower, I was absolutely spoilt . Almost every story contains an artist, gallery or a painting but somehow manages not to labour the theme. The title of the book conjures the debate of art versus pornography—what is the difference between a nude painting and ‘nudey pictures’? Questions of power, choice, intention, sex, (im)morality, attention, passion and love run as an undercurrent throughout the stories.
Ní Chonchúir has a shrewd eye for relationships, and I wish I’d been handed this collection as a teenager as a primer on romance. She tells painful truths. Leaving the Madonna-Whore dichotomy in the rubbish, she gives us women who are good, bad and ugly; intelligent women who make stupid, loving or selfish choices. And she treats them all with utter compassion, which allows the reader some space to remember their own odd or weak moments with a bit of forgiveness. I was particularly humbled after reading ‘Xavier’, where a woman falls for the classic bad boy, ‘beautiful, angry’. His compliments border on insults, but his attention is intoxicating. He is passionate and impatient and the woman struggles to assert her needs for fear of losing him. Even when she brings up some strength to take care of herself, there is no chick-lit moment of happy transcendence. Certainly no community of women bringing ice cream while singing 'I Will Survive'. What’s left is the reality of independence: lonely and isolated. For the reader, however, this is comforting rather than depressing.
There are moments of comic relief too, my favourite being ‘Roy Lichtenstein’s Nudes in a Mirror: We are Not Fake!’ It’s told from the point of view of a nude woman in a painting, observing a woman in a gallery who is looking at her rather suspiciously. The voice is hilariously American (‘Our canvas is B-I-G’), and very like something you’d imagine a Lichtenstein woman would sound like. The story, like many of the others in Nude, subverts the object and the subject, letting the model tell her own story. On top of this, you get a look at female competitiveness and the damage only a woman can inflict on another woman.
Nude is a gorgeous collection. It’s sexy, intelligent, sensual, challenging and, even better, an addictive read. Highly recommended.
©2009 Jennifer Matthews
Interviews with various poets through Ó Bhéal
Matthews poems on Poetry International Web
Yank Refugee in the PRC (blog)
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