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Three Poets

Kathy D'Arcy reviews collections by Lani O'Hanlon, Roisín Kelly and Maya Katherine Popa

 

 

 

eKathy D'Arcy is a Cork poet (Encounter 2010, The Wild Pupil 2012) currently completing an IRC-funded Creative Writing PhD in UCC, where she teaches with the Women's Studies department. In 2013 she received an Arts Council Literature Bursary for her poem "Camino". She has worked as a doctor and youth worker as well as teaching creative writing. Her play This is my Constitution was staged in 2013 at an Irish parliamentary briefing on gender. In 2016 she won the Hippocrates Prize and was longlisted for the Ivan Juritz prize for experimental poetry. She was 2016 editor of the Cork Literary Review and is current editor of Rhyme Rag (an online poetry journal for young people) and Autonomy (a women-led collection of writing due for publication in the Spring). She is involved in the Irish Pro-Choice campaign.

 

 

 

 

eThe Little Theatre

Lani O'Hanlon

(Press, 20xx)

ISBN: 999

€xx paperback

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The Bees Have Been Cancelled

Maya Catherine Popa

(Press, 2017)

ISBN: 999

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Rapture

Roisín Kelly

(Press, 20xx)

ISBN: 999

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I’m part of an emerging movement in Irish poetry called Fired!. It’s a response by Irish women poets to the publication this year of the Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets, edited by Gerald Dawe. The striking gender imbalance and omission of the work of women, especially poets of the mid-century, in this volume is just the latest manifestation of a pattern in Irish literature whereby the history of poetry by women is repeatedly fragmented, erased and dismissed. While The Oxford Book of Irish Poetry (1958) featured 18 women, The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1986), edited by Kinsella, featured one: Eibhlín Dubh, in translation by, yes, Kinsella. There are countless others examples. More or less every anthology of Irish poetry ever published is an example.

 

Those of us who are signing the pledge associated with Fired! are making a commitment to withdraw our participation and support for literary projects which have not made good faith attempts to work towards gender balance. So I’m very happy to be reviewing the work of three fine women poets in this issue.

 

The Little Theatre by Lani O’ Hanlon (Artlinks)

 

When I began spending time in Ardmore, walking the Saint Declan’s Way and writing about it, I met the poet and dancer Lani O’ Hanlon and participated in some of her earthy outdoor workshops. I was deeply affected by Lani’s unselfconscious acceptance of the power of feminine energy, and the way that she used poetry and movement to explore this.

 

O’ Hanlon’s first poetry chapbook, The Little Theatre, is a refreshing collection of small, perfectly-formed poems with the delicate beauty of seashell fragments from a deserted beach. In frank, simple and sometimes childlike language she recounts memories which flow gently into life: a theatrical family; a performing childhood; a larger-than-life mother who is ‘beautiful like Elizabeth Taylor’; and a later awakening which sees the speaker walk away from her father’s house ‘to dance barefoot in a circle of women.’ There is a deep, calm, oceanic truth in the words.

 

This isn’t O’ Hanlon’s first foray into print: in 2007 she wrote Dancing the Rainbow, an account of and guide through her yoga dance therapy teaching practice. The seamless, ever-moving, transcendent sensibility outlined in that book is very much carried into The Little Theatre, where the words and lines flow like gentle physical movements coming from an innate place of release and liberation.

 

…I remember

Ellie Byrne and me

looking up through cherry blossoms

at stars and the young night

 

our warm round bellies

before the eggs

began to fall.

 

(Cherry Blossoms, 23)

 

O’ Hanlon has worked very hard on these poems, and is diligent and committed to her writing practice, as her publication and shortlist records show. I’m so happy to see another emerging woman’s voice speak up proudly and movingly about women’s lives, women’s journeys.

 

Rapture by Roisin Kelly (Southword Editions, New Irish Voices No. 1)

 

Roisin and I were at one time in a writers’ group together, and so I thought I would be familiar with her style when I opened this neat blue chapbook. But I was taken by surprise. She has honed and sculpted her poems into creatures of striking sophistication. They are the same poems, in a way, but it is as though they have been gilded, or fired, or otherwise perfected. The title poem, ‘Rapture,’ finishes

            From the shadows they watch me

with their pink-jelly eyes, their raspberry eyes –

the deer, I mean. The thirsty deer.

It’s this ‘I mean,’ that indicates some kind of shift in awareness, for me. As though the poet has dropped the book she was reading from and is now staring you in the face, demanding a response.

 

The pink-red energy of ‘Rapture’ persists through these aftermath poems which explore loss and the metamorphoses it catalyses. Kelly is never far from the earth, and the poems are populated with ripe, colourful fruit and the offerings of the land – we are never not aware of the movement of the earth and seasons around the poems, of the ancient stone below.

In the cellars, barrelled apples sleep

and dream their short lives in reverse.

A very clear narrative emerges as the reader progresses through this collection, and the deadpan parallel with the Virgin begun in ‘The Second Coming’ perfectly captures that momentous instant of first love, the pleasurable-painful transformations reimagined as lighthearted mistakes by our older selves:

You struck a match for your cigarette. At the same moment

my mother lit the window’s candle back home

so Mary and Joseph would know they were welcome.

I am reminded so much by these poems, which cluster thematically, of the flush of unrequited love I endured for far longer than was sensible when I was younger. Part of me wants to take the speaker of these poems and tell her that she is wrong, that this isn’t love at all, that she is going to be so, so hurt. But I’m talking to myself. Another writer once told me not to write about love while I was ‘in it,’ that the work would of necessity be appalling, sentimental and clichéd. I think I listened to him too well – why do male writers always think it’s their job to tell women what to write about? It seems to me that Kelly has waited with the love in these poems until it was just slightly too fecund, just entering that time when to consume it might be to hurt oneself. She has waited, in other words, exactly long enough.

 

 

The Bees Have Been Canceled by Maya Catherine Popa
(Southword Editions, Fool for Poetry 2017)

 

I’m told by a friend in the Green party that new evidence points to a slight improvement in colony collapse: otherwise, I would have found it very painful to address myself to a collection with the above title, the title poem in which is unbearably filled with the absence of those ‘velveteen prisoner[s]’, those ‘little engine[s] left running late into the darkness.’ I really hope the bees have been rescheduled. These poems lament the extinction of compassion alongside creatures like the parrotfish – I’m reminded, coincidentally, of the work of the poet Grace Wells, a friend of mine and of Lani’s.

. . . I try, but there’s no way

to sleep off this violence.

Popa’s name and her exquisitely crafted poetry have been cropping up at the Spring Poetry Festival for quite a while, so it was no surprise when she placed second in the Fool for Poetry chapbook competition last year. The poems in this collection are assured and seamless – but never lacking that awareness of human fallibility that’s so vital in truly engaging work. They often surprise with little conversational asides, as though the speaker must break off every now and then to explain herself, to make sure we understand that all of this extinction is ridiculous, that the world is ridiculous now.

              Today, the Library of Congress is canceled

 

which makes it difficult to do my job

. . . .

From this description, it is impossible to say what I do.

 

Popa even mocks her writing practice, comparing it to painting in ‘The Master’s Pieces’: ‘My hands listen to my brain listens/to my listening.’ Of a ‘you’ who keeps appearing in this piece, the speaker says ‘Or is that the writer again/fawning on a feeling…’

 

Many things are cancelled (yes, that niggling difference between US and Irish spelling) in this collection’s titles, including the government and, finally, the end of the world. What you’re left with is a feeling of desperate, gentle resignation, the kind of resignation that can even laugh a little. How to keep loving people when they keep hurting each other and everything else? ‘who can/teach you that, really?’

 

All three of these collections address, in different ways, how to go on living after loss, or when everything seems to have become about loss: how to remake yourself for the new, slightly sharper, world you find yourself in: I think we can never have enough poetry about that.

 

©2018 Kathy D'Arcy

 

 

Author Links

 

Kathy D'Arcy's website

@KathyDArcyCork on Twitter

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