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THE FADO HOUSE:
Jennifer Matthews reviews Mary Noonan's début poetry collection
Jennifer Matthews was born in Missouri (USA) and has lived in Ireland since 2003. Her poetry has been published in The Stinging Fly, Mslexia, Revival, Necessary Fiction, Poetry Salzburg, Foma & Fontanelles and Cork Literary Review,and anthologised in Dedalus's collection of immigrant poetry in Ireland, Landing Places (2010). She is currently working on a collaboration with poet Anamaría Crowe Serrano.
The Fado House
(Dedalus Press, 2012)
ISBN: 978 1 906614 57 7
Buy from Dedalus
Fado is a genre of Portuguese music which is often mournful sounding, evoking a sense of longing. The word itself is related to the Latin word for fate. In Lisbon, travellers can visit Fado Houses—places to eat traditional Portuguese meals while listening to Fado singers. Sorrow and celebration feasting side by side, under one roof, is very much what is accomplished in Mary Noonan in her début collection, The Fado House.
The image of a Fado House indicates to the reader two of Noonan's sources of inspiration: song and travel. Amongst her literary references throughout are also nods to musicians Tom Waits, Hoagy Carmichael and Leonard Cohen—her lyric work is skilful in sound. Noonan's lines can be urgent and pressing, building in tumbles and crescendos, later falling to slowly meditative lingering. 'Goodbye Sounds Like This' begins with an anxious "cut-glass cutlass byebyes, the blade of the receiver/ slamming, sending me spinning, snipped/ from the telephonic thread", and slows to the grieving "a strangled note her only way of reaching/ him, and not a thing he could do to save her". Her turn of phrase is a dynamic feature of The Fado House.
She is clearly a well-seasoned traveller. Uniquely, and commendably, the personae in her work seem to blend into the scenery, letting the places speak for themselves (where other poets in foreign lands cannot escape the lenses of their own worldviews). My favourites were 'Seagulls in St Andrews' ("like ghastly choristers") and 'What We Missed', the latter exploring the tension between the places we meant to visit (but didn't), and those we visited but are not what we had hoped for. On failing to visit the Parisian catacombs: "After an hour/ of squirming like sun-baked worms, / and no nearer the underworld, we turned/ away ..." In reading some of her other travel poems, there were occasions when I wanted more – perhaps more length, perhaps more persona-commentary – to dwell in and understand these fascinating setting she'd drawn me into. Poems like 'Evening in Muscat' present us with "old man in tattered sarong" who "sits in a stoneware sink", "a television set, rigged to corrugated sleeping sheds", and "carved intricacies of doors caught in the glare of neon". All these beautiful details, but a lingering mystery as to why the author had brought us here (beyond deserved praise for an evocative place). Still, I would take Noonan's occasional mystery over the excessive, overly-telling narratives commonly published in contemporary. Her rich descriptions make the reader long for travel.
In Noonan's relationship poems she distils personal experiences and relationships into heart-tugging pieces. Unafraid to employ the weird, she fulfils Dickenson's remit to "tell the truth slant", and incorporates her own bestiary of human-animal hybrids throughout the collection. There are eel-girls; women who gabble and howl; fadistas as hawks with hair set in bird's nests; muses with snake's or lion's skins. In a poem inspired by the tale of Philomel, a girl becomes a bird after horrific abuse that leaves her speechless. In 'Frida and the Monkeys':
Frida closes her eyes, opens her lips
her mouth, her ruby throat. A howl
ricochets off the garden wall, scattering
monkeys in trees.
By invoking animals, Noonan reaches into the primal complexity of human experience--something bodily and immediate.
In fact, much of her work reminds me of paintings by Rousseau or Kahlo: slightly dark, dreamlike, tense, with roots to a Jungian undercurrent of meaning. The Fado House is a collection about struggle—with lovers, friends, family, and also with ourselves. Poems like 'Keep Talking, Babe' ("Did he see me pinned? Did I suffer good?") and 'Two Beds' ("Blood gone, sheets washed, dried on bed...") were chilling, psychologically apt, and went straight to the core of me.
Noonan has a truly unique voice. The Fado House, with its exotic outward journeys running parallel to darker inward paths, is a début worth reading.
©2012 Jennifer Matthews
Matthews poems at Poetry International Web
Yank Refugee in the PRC (blog)
The Stinging Fly