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), the latter of which was translated into Italian by Lorenzo Mari and published by L’Arcolaio in 2015. Ghost will be translated in 2020. 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, frequently 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 was lucky enough to be one of fourteen poets to get a place on the three-day Masterclass with Don Share at the magical Molly Keane Writers’ Retreat in Ardmore. I have dozens of pages of notes, but this is a glimpse into some of the insights he offered. Yes, we know many of these things already, but it’s good to be reminded. And this is Don Share – if we pay attention, we might just get into Poetry Magazine one day.
The first thing Don looks at is the shape of the poem on a page. If it has sections, do the sections help? He likes names rather than pronouns. Names are striking things, he says. They can do a lot in a poem. Look at the etymology of words. What does Inchigeela mean? A place name becomes imbued with the qualities of its history. Be curious. Don’t just…
I know that Black people were sold as slaves because they were seen as talking beasts of burden and Africans colonized for their own good; and it was unnatural for women to operate heavy machinery let alone operate on a brain.
I know that in the United States, Jim Crow used the rope to keep black from white, and apartheid in South Africa killed for as little as looking across the color line; and that intermarrying between the races was a crime against God, Queen, and Country.
I know that a God of many names, the laws of many lands, science and nature were used to justify slavery and colonialism, holocausts and genocides, rapes and lynching.
I know that African dictators called those who fought for democracy “puppets under the pay of foreign masters” and the foreign masters called those same people communists and insurgents.
And this I know very well: that had the Sojourner Truths, Dedan Kimathis, Martin Luther Kings, Malcom Xs, and Ruth Firsts failed, my wife and I would not have crossed the color line and my daughter would not have been possible.
I know that she, just like her mother and me, just like her grandparents, will have her struggles, but it will BE a struggle waged at the crossroad of many cultures and worlds.
So I must know that those before me did not die so that I could use my freedom to put others in jail; or use the same laws that betrayed them to enslave and torture.
I must know that if Steve Biko died so I could write what I like, then my pen cannot become the weapon that justifies the torture and murder of others.
How then can I not know that no one appointed me protector of African cultural purity? How can I not know that I am not the standard of all that is moral and natural?
What fortress is this I build that subjugates those within and keeps those outside under siege? Whose moral law is this I use to judge?
Whose legal system to jail? Whose weapon to murder? And whose tongue do I use to silence?
How can I, Black and African and blessed as I am by the struggles of my fathers and mothers deny my gay brothers and sisters their rights?
Browsing on a different topic entirely threw up this poem. Hope it stops you the way it stopped me.
after Kim Addonizio
It will get easier that baby kicking you on the inside will come out through your own strength on the backs of grandmothers and shoulders of giants into hands of midwives and it will fight sleep wean off your breast or off a bottle (it doesn’t matter) and give you sleepless nights to the point you forget days and weeks in blackness of memory and it will fight with that brother who is currently running between gates to Portland and gates to Los Angeles past the line to the coffee barista because he is too tired to sleep too hungry to eat going dizzy from the fluorescent lights and he is screaming and wailing and you sit on the floor of the airport lounge and hold your head in your hands and cry like him who is lying there and refusing to get up and banging his fists into the floor.
The gate steward calls Miss, final call, and you say you have no more calls within you because you are too tired to speak so a circle of women waiting for their respective planes who do not know each other or know you will form a circle around you.
One will offer an orange from her purse one will hum a nursery rhyme one will offer you a bottle of unopened water that she had saved for her own flight one will find a toy and another will just kneel quietly and in that circle the toddler will calm and you will board your flight. So will they too disband like the end of a farewell concert of a reunion tour. But there will be no encore your child will take flight as will you as will the one in your belly and you’ll go home saying, ‘listen I love you, joy is coming.’
This poem really struck me, because I have a close friend who’s just had a stroke, in his fifties. I believe Matthew Dickman was only in his early forties when this happened to him. I wanted to know what it felt like and Matthew is forensic about how his body and brain felt, so now I have a sense of what my friend is experiencing. This poem first appeared in Rattle.
The hotel sign blinking in the brain
of my body stops blinking but not
the whole sign, you know, just a couple
of the letters, the H and T.
Then the E and L so all that is left
when the whole left side of my body
comes to an end is the O.
I am sitting across from a beautiful
woman, drinking coffee, and she is asking
me what I did. What were you doing
when you were in your twenties,
she asks. And I am
saying something like I was doing
a lot of drugs but the words
come out all slurred, they come out
like pushing your tongue through a clay door,
the word drug becoming droog.
And then free-will floats up and out,
really it flies, it leaps off the ledge of me,
and I remember while falling
from my chair to the ground, trying
to apologize. The half of my brain
that was still alive, as alive as
a deer standing in a meadow
in the morning licking dew off
the blades of grass, telling what was left
of me that I was just tired.
You’re just tired the left side
of my brain said, you’re just tired,
this is normal. The normal not normal
blood clot in the right side
of my brain wiping everything
away like a teacher wiping chalk away
with an eraser, the blackboard
full of signs and cosines and then just long
strokes of white, a white field in winter,
a white sky before rain. A white
sheet of paper. Through the tunnel
of my body I could hear someone
ask me are you ok?
My whole life someone asking me,
and so often it was me, are you ok,
are you feeling well? I’m just tired,
I thought.And then this thought: I’m not.
A hand on the hand I could still feel.
They are coming, the voice said,
it’s ok, you will be ok.
The sound then of the ambulance
from far off. The sirens getting
closer, lights and sirens approaching
my body from a street far off.
That’s something I never thought of
before. That sirens are always
approaching a body, that’s the whole
reason for them, to let everyone know
there is a body. I thought of my son
at home, seventeen months old,
pointing to the window in the living room,
saying siren, siren,
siren,and up, up, up. I was lifted up
onto the gurney, my shirt cut off
in the ambulance, and arriving
at the hospital, the triage nurse
asking, are you Matthew Dickman.
Yes. Up, up, up,I thought. Death
is not a design, not an idea.
Death is the body, I know
this now, it’s your arms and legs,
your whole cardio vascular system.
It is the whole of us, only we walk around
enough to think it isn’t.
The blood clot is doing its job,
it’s doing exactly what it was made to do
and the only thing you need to do
when you are dying is to die.
Nothing else. You don’t need to
fold the laundry or clean
the kitchen floor, you don’t have to
pick your children up from school.
Unlike the rest of your life,
there is only this one thing.
You don’t even have to be good at it,
you just have to do it. A list of chores
with just one chore. In the operating
room I’m awake,made to stay awake,
while the surgeon threads a “line”
through the artery in my groin
and up through all the rooms, through
the room of my legs, and the room
of my chest, through the room
of my neck and into the room
of my brain. When I put my son
to bed I give him a bottle of milk,
and rock him and sing, it’s time to rest your body,
it’s time to rest your mind,it’s time,
oh it’s time to rest your brains.
The surgeon is able to grab the clot
and slip it through and out
of all the rooms, into the one
he’s working in. I can hear everyone
in the operating room clapping
because they are happy,
because it took that one try
to get it all, to remove
the clot, and then the left side of me
begins to move again, and there it is,
I have to pee, my body is done
with this death. And now there is nothing
to do but wait for the next death.
I have never been more inside than that
moment. I have never wanted anything
as much as I wanted to stand up
in that room and walk out through
the automatic doors to you,
to walk right into your arms
like walking into the sea.
Matthew Dickman: ‘When I suffered a stroke in April 2018, I wasn’t sure that I would write poems again. Of course I could physically write a poem. I was lucky that I was in a public place when the stroke occurred and got help right away. It’s just that mentally I felt lost and alone and angry. But with any of the trauma I have experienced in my life it was always poetry that called me back to myself, back to the world—even if that world had changed dramatically. This poem was a calling back.’
As it’s Easter, and Roisín is one of Cork’s own (well, we claim her!) here’s her lovely poem, which first appeared in The Guardian. Just had to share it on my blog:
You walk by holding a bunch of flowers never knowing that you’ve just performed a miracle. Are those flowers for your girl? I imagine her dressed up like an Easter egg in yellow and pink. I’d tap at you like an egg, cracking your thin chocolate shell. If I were made of chocolate too, I’d break off parts of myself to give to you and your girl. Once, I gave my words for garden and water and moonlit and love to a man who kissed me. After he rolled a stone over my heart and shut me off from the world, I had no words left to describe the dark dream that followed. Now you’ve walked by, godlike in jeans and an old t-shirt, the sun glinting on one silver earring. Now a rose is once again not only rose but also soft and red and thorn and bee and honey. Now a bird is singing song and tree and nest in a high place and blue speckled egg. You yourself are glowing with words, they move up and down you as if they’re alive. The words bring themselves to me and tell my tongue sweetness over and over. The words are everything. With them, I’ll turn water to wine at your wedding.
And here’s Carol Rumens’ analysis of the poem. Hope she doesn’t mind me sharing it:
From Mercy, the first full-length collection by the young Belfast-born poet, Róisín Kelly, Easter seems to have a special glow to it. And no, the glow isn’t only that of romantic love. The latter is a strong contributory factor, of course: its pains are rekindled for the speaker when her ex-boyfriend walks by “holding a bunch of flowers”. The question “Are those flowers for your girl?” contextualises it a little, while retaining the tonal mystery. Is the voice angry, sarcastic, sorrowful? We might guess it’s all three.
I like the mixed emotions playing throughout the earlier passages of the poem, and how they are finally resolved. Easter eggs initially supply the poetic calories. All three players in the love triangle are turned into chocolate, the man’s current girlfriend being a particularly sickly and triumphant example “dressed up … / in yellow and pink”. The man is seen as the more vulnerable.
Writing a kind of verse letter to the man in question, the speaker imagines tapping him and “cracking your thin chocolate shell”. Birth may be suggested, but death occurs first. She imagines her own comic-extreme self-sacrifice, breaking off parts of her chocolate self to give the man and his girl.
Later on, imagery from the Passion of Christ recalls the numbness and sense of being buried alive “after he rolled / a stone over my heart / and shut me off from the world”. Probably the same boyfriend was the culprit, though not necessarily. Kelly’s change of pronoun leaves it ambiguous. The “sepulchre” analogy is pitched high, yet it’s also faithful to the experience of severe depression, a suffocating stone that’s all too real.
Now the speaker returns the ex-lover to mortal form, a little self-mockingly at first – “godlike in jeans / and an old t-shirt, the sun glinting on one / silver earring”. The mood has changed, perhaps with the recovery of simultaneously erotic and sublimated feelings.
Words withheld and words given become the dominant theme. In line nine, the first of the special, italicised words and phrases, garden, helps the transition to biblical analogy. There is an implied betrayal. But the words are magically potent. They ignite the rose, although they include thorn. They produce birds who lay “blue speckled egg(s)” in nests high in trees. Kelly’s italics slow the reader, so we savour these archetypal symbols, these ordinary happy words, and, importantly, imagine them as the especially meaningful gifts originally offered in the poet’s native Irish language.
Six lines from the end, the poet turns on her full power with that marvellous image of the man clothed in, covered in, words that “move / up and down you, as if they’re alive”. Most significantly, “the words bring themselves to me / and tell my tongue sweetness over and over”. They enable the speaker to find her own words and “The words are everything…” Once more, I was reminded of a passage from the New Testament: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the word was God.”
Out of the rediscovery of inspiration and language comes the generosity of forgiveness – and, of course, the miracle. A miracle was first attributed to the man in the poem’s second line: now, an old-new miracle is performed by the speaker. What could be more generous than turning water to wine at a rival’s wedding feast? And of course the wine is also the poet’s gift-to-self – part of her own word feast, now freely flowing.
Easter appears in the forthcoming collection, Mercy, to be published by Bloodaxe Books in 2020.
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.
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.