I’m the author of a collection of poetry called Ghost of the Fisher Cat (Salmon Poetry, 2016), and another called The lucky star of hidden things (2012), which was also translated into Italian by Lorenzo Mari and published by L’Arcolaio in 2015. A chapbook, titled Invisible, Insane, was published by the surrealist publishing house, SurVision, in 2019. Currently, I’m writing an auto-fictional prose-poetry childhood memoir, with immense gratitude to the Arts Council of Ireland for their support. I am a freelance mentor, editor and reviewer. I facilitate poetry workshops and sometimes judge competitions. I am also a consultant with The Inkwell Group: http://www.inkwellwriters.ie/people/afric-mcglinchey/
I read and write a lot, always circling back to an obsession about migration / dislocation / identity and place, and more recently about the ‘place’ of nature being disrupted or brutalized by us, and how it resists. My work has been translated into five languages and widely anthologized. It has also won several prizes, including the Hennessy poetry award, two Arts bursaries, a Faber Fellowship and selection for an Italo-Irish Literature Exchange, as well as Pushcart and Forward nominations. Recently, I was commissioned to write a poem for the Breast Check Clinic in Cork and also for the Irish Composers' Collective. My work has been broadcast on Lyric FM’s Poetry File, on RTE’s Poetry Programme, Arena, Live FM, Radio Coventry, and on The Poetry Jukebox in Belfast. I have read at the Poetry Africa Festival, and the Harare International Festival of the Arts, as well as numerous other festivals and venues in Italy, France, the USA, England and Ireland.
I have an addiction to buying books and half of those in my possession are still unread. There must be a word for that!
My twitter handle is @itosha.
I have abandoned the dream kitchens for a low fire and a prescriptive literature of the spirit; a storm snores on the desolate sea. The nearest shop is four miles away— when I walk there through the shambles of the morning for tea and firelighters the mountain paces me in a snow-lit silence. My days are spent in conversation with deer and blackbirds; at night fox and badger gather at my door. I have stood for hours watching a salmon doze in the tea-gold dark, for months listening to the sob story of a stone in the road, the best, most monotonous sob story I have ever heard.
I am an expert on frost crystals and the silence of crickets, a confidant of the stinking shore, the stars in the mud— there is an immanence in these things which drives me, despite my scepticism, almost to the point of speech, like sunlight cleaving the lake mist at morning or when tepid water runs cold at last from the tap.
I have been working for years on a four-line poem about the life of a leaf; I think it might come out right this winter.
Invisible Insane, the title given to my new chapbook is Google Translate’s Japanese version of the English proverb: ‘out of sight, out of mind’. The poems vary widely in theme, always connecting loosely with absences, invisibilities, what is present but ignored or not seen. There is also the capturing of fleeting moments, all the more resonant for the fact that they vanish so swiftly.
The opening poem is a kind of ars poetica, or at least, a poem about influences: ‘On the side, two tongues’. The poem intentionally destabilises locations, exploding the notion of solidity. The quay is a ‘quay of flames’; the republic, ‘a republic of dreams’. In this dream-world, the first living library is created by a ‘small heir’, while ‘the limping man’ draws ‘tiny counter Xs’ along the ‘quay of flames.’ Domestic items, too, are made strange: ‘preternatural alterities lurk within / furniture, gloomy canopies’ – here again, solid objects acquire some kind of mysticism.
The fluidity of water is suggested throughout: ‘water poured into a vase’, the ‘wavy river’. There is ‘fluid’; there is ‘mingling’. The poem is hopefully to be viewed, with each re-reading, as a child might ‘plainly see the first day of the world.’
In the second poem, ‘The Green Taste of Youth’ is ‘a summer carousel’, and here again, fire features: ‘horses playing arson, burning stables…’ and there are tongues and fluids too: ‘unlatch your tongue, paint / it with saliva…’ The energy, euphoria and anarchy of further destabilising actions suggest the pleasure of surrealist suggestibility: ‘in the tower, light is bared / and swinging, laughing manically’.
‘Cha’ is a poem inspired by a piece of electronic music composed by Edan Ray: ‘crossovers smacking up against the wayward torques’, where we are invited to ‘run backwards into all the peripheral stories’. Again, everything is fluid, and the world is one oceanic confluence of light and water. ‘Strobe-light-/fix each gesture…loose-wristed, star-fired, brainless /
with excitement. Cha.’ Here again, energy, playfulness, an awareness of connection.
In the next poem, ‘Human’ the opening image is of someone ‘rolling downhill like a Cuban cigar / in your sleeping bag, to land / jammed up next to mine’. An explosion of images and sensations follow, which might be excessive, only they are justified by the last three lines: ‘Someone or nothing catches / a catacomb of moods. /Glass perhaps, between hallucinations’.
In ‘While the sleepers’, we have, again, tongues, and fire: ‘The muse in the field / is a pop-up book. / His bed is a tongue / of grass. I am who.’ The speaker talks of placing some of the muse’s ‘dusty fire / over my eyelids’.
While the first poem hints at excavation: ‘at the turn of the untilled field… leave the second stone,/ turn up curios’, in ‘After the Blossoming, Boom’ there is a forensic analysis of ‘post-humous feathers and snouts…heraldic as Godard’. This reference is, of course, to Jean Luc Godard, the film director who is fascinated with the way language shapes our experiences, who defies narrative conventions, who offers unusual examples of social and personal interaction. The poem also honours Sara Baume, author of ‘A Line Made By Walking’, where the protagonist studies dead creatures as art forms.
‘Rabblement’ was inspired by a newspaper article about a Korean woman who committed suicide in a direct provision centre, leaving behind a six year old boy, ‘and now, no amount of wind / will wake the leaves’.
‘More than Skin’ is an ekphrastic written in response to a painting by the broken-bodied Frida Kahlo, where she lies in the bath, where, on the surface of the water fantastical images float, using her toes to turn the taps: ‘twenty red-tipped / toes – / wings in flight.’
‘Third Law’ refers to the relationships between heat and other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, chemical) and, by extension, the relationships between all forms of energy. It’s an eco-poem: ‘We are wading up to our knees in toxic water’. Our planet is a ‘snow globe filling with plutonium, / psychically cracked.’
In ‘Body Notes’, again, there are warnings, aberrations, fire, water, air, earth: ‘Think of the pit; think of descent. / This is otherness. Sometimes / the body whimpers.’ Again, solid objects and locations are destabilised: ‘The room is a suitcase / and does not belong to the doll. / The walls are a swallow of blood.’
‘Living Proof’ is the attempt of an artist to make sense of the world, but the elements she is painting don’t behave: ‘an elongated tree grows outside the frame, thin as vinegar’.
In ‘Particle of Light Through A Raindrop’, there’s a sense of cause and effect: ‘houses are lifted up, then dropped, like crystal’ and the resulting shards ‘cut through memory.’ A longed-for presence is suggested by an absence: ‘If you hold my hand, though I feel it empty, / then rain, landing on earth and soaking it anyway.’
‘A Travelling Country of Windows’ describes a journey, both physical and psychological, along the coastline, towards the north of the speaker’s childhood, ‘where the mattress groaned under/our bouncing feet and feathers flew / from the bolsters, until the creak / of a door, pink glow of the landing wallpaper.’ Into this innocent memory, a silence lunges, ‘tipping its point / like a Damocles sword.’
‘Silver Wings’ is a poem about the anxiety of influence, or of self-identity: ‘you recognise someone saying your name, / and you go right up to the moment, / right up to the third person within you’.
Both a relationship poem and an ars poetica ‘Whose Territory’ describes ‘all the boulders keeping secrets’, where the urge is both to ‘get the rabbits out of hiding’, and also to trip ‘into the dark, the boundless’.
‘Viewpoint’ considers a street protest seen through the revolving glass doors of a hotel, where the speaker is detached, sealed from the noise, but aware of impending danger: ‘Ever closer, their breath, / its volume broad as night.’
‘Base’ takes us back to another sense of danger, again in the north, where borders, check-points and ‘toxic-routes through back gardens’ are re-enacted, suggesting what might recur if Brexit goes through.
The title poem, ‘Invisible Insane’ begins with an epigraph by Margaret Atwood, ‘It was always the other way round’. Again, there’s a mention of the earth as a ‘snow-globe’, and absences: ‘not up against a wall, / your three-legged / mind // jaywalking across / my shadow’.
‘Anomie’ continues the theme of the conflation of words / agency / the natural order, where ‘the old philosopher’ flags absences, issues warnings: ‘There should be flowers, he tells us, / in a clear-cut voice, simple as ink.’
We begin to sense that the ecstatic energy of the early poems was a bright, brittle desperation, as the world of the chapbook gradually breaks down. In ‘The Sea’s Dream’, there’s a ship ‘fleeing an hourglass’, and inviting its passengers to ‘kiss the sea’s shrinking reflection // unfold vestigial gills and fly / down, down, down to the sea’s secret garden, / our older memory.’
In this world of vanishings, time, most especially, is fleet: ‘The Speed of Life’ is a sonnet which spans a lifetime, from a boy playing marbles (‘genies are lifted to colour air’) until old age, when he is walking ‘on scarred and scraggy knees / through the gates of memory’.
‘Into the Iron Winter’ is a series of impressionist images, where ‘between apples and dirt, / a girl lifts an apple / feels a bird turn.’
The bird image leads us to ‘The Thing with Feathers’ which evokes Emily Dickinson’s ‘Hope is the Thing With Feathers’. In this case, an old woman, along with many other souls, prays in a chapel for her dear departed, whom she will join soon. ‘Prayers flutter, three/ hundred breaths a minute’ and ‘in the clerestory, we find ‘an angel’s / wing-lashed fire// in twenty-one-gram / refractions, holding all this’.
The sense of loss due to departures is also evoked in ‘End of the Blessing’ where ‘you were the heart’s x / against my Guernica wall, / drowning out calamity.’ The poem ends: ‘what’s left inside me, now/ you’ve drifted off,/ taking all the alleluias?’
The last poem is an orphan left out of my last collection, which featured one too many poems about cats! ‘As Pearl Cat Catches Rain’ attempts to return to the enchantment of life, where ‘air draws cloud / to land on street in handfuls // and cobbles sing’.
These are the chapbook’s see-saw emotions: from euphoria to apprehension. From the wonderment of life, the longing to share it, to the pang of loss and absences; from the seizing of the day, to the fear of impending demise, of death.
A sample poem:
Fish swim, oblivious of song
until their body leaves water.
Think of fish sailing
through air, while a radio
is playing Dvořák.
When she was a pipefish wheel,
she watched the cumulous journeys.
Cloud on the body of sky.
The tall hill is layered with trees,
sun bolting to red.
Think of a rocket, a blaze.
Soldiers on the horizon.
Think of the rack of bodies
as a war machine.
Think of the rhythm of truth
as the rhythm of ricochet.
The room is a suitcase
and does not belong to the doll.
The walls are a swallow of blood.
The stigmata is female.
Think of the notes of her bones.
Think of the pit; think of descent.
This is otherness. Sometimes
the body whimpers.
The tongue is the keeper of flame,
especially when singing.
Think of tone as a swooning.
Nakedness as intuitive.
Think of light through a dream.
Now a body is unlocking a door,
spilling a cup,
blooming with scales.
(I was asked to explain the poems by my students. This is for them. Hopefully it opens the door a little, at least.)
Originally posted on Linda Ibbotson I Poet: Contemplating the Muse No 21 – Linda Ibbotson A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” ― W.H. Auden, The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Volume II:…
As if by accident, I find my head washed up window-side of his bed. After all that fucking, look! the sky’s still pinned up. His nose is longer with his eyes shut. This whole time, I’ve been holding, squeezing, wringing, folding, bending, nodding, thank you, God, for giving me someone who makes me hold my breath. I will be so light upon his life he won’t realise he’s kept me. I’ll leave not a mark on his pillow, papers, knife, DVDs or wineglass. What blessing Only when he is sleeping can I breathe out. So deep my ribs come up like a ship.
no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you breath bloody in their throats the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory is holding a gun bigger than his body you only leave home when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you fire under feet hot blood in your belly it’s not something you ever thought of doing until the blade burnt threats into your neck and even then you carried the anthem under your breath only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet sobbing as each mouthful of paper made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land no one burns their palms under trains beneath carriages no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled means something more than journey. no one crawls under fences no one wants to be beaten pitied
no one chooses refugee camps or strip searches where your body is left aching or prison, because prison is safer than a city of fire and one prison guard in the night is better than a truckload of men who look like your father no one could take it no one could stomach it no one skin would be tough enough
the go home blacks refugees dirty immigrants asylum seekers sucking our country dry niggers with their hands out they smell strange savage messed up their country and now they want to mess ours up how do the words the dirty looks roll off your backs maybe because the blow is softer than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender than fourteen men between your legs or the insults are easier to swallow than rubble than bone than your child body in pieces. i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark home is the barrel of the gun and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore unless home told you to quicken your legs leave your clothes behind crawl through the desert wade through the oceans drown save be hunger beg forget pride your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying- leave, run away from me now i dont know what i’ve become but i know that anywhere is safer than here