Tipping my hat to female poets


I’m doing an inventory of my poetry books in anticipation of preparing my writing room for a tenant who’ll be moving in while we move to Zimbabwe for a few months. In honour of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d do a roll call of the female poets on my shelves: the 178 full collections and chapbooks together are the works of 148 poets (damn, I bet I have one or two lurking elsewhere in the house…) I picked up most of these books at festivals, as well as a few gems at the Time Travellers’ Bookshop and also the Salmon Poetry Bookshop in Ennistymon, which has a great second-hand section; a number were sent to me for review too. Another favourite bookshop is the Book Stór in Kinsale.

Each of these poets has been an inspiration in one way or another, and I just wanted to say thank you! Here are the names:

Aifric MacAodha
Alice Oswald
Alice Walker
Alyson Hallett
Amy De’Ath
Andrea Mbarushimana
Angela T. Carr
Angela France
Anna Akhmatova
Anna Journey
Anne-Marie Fyfe
Ailbhe Darcy
Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh
Anne Carson
Anne Fitzgerald
Anne Rouse
Anne Sexton
Bethany W. Pope
Breda Wall Ryan
Brenda Shaughnessy
Carol Ann Duffy
Caroline Smith
C.D. Wright
Chrissy Williams
Daphne Gottlieb
Deborah Tyler-Bennett
Deirdre Hines
Denise Blake
Denise Levertov
Djuna Barnes
Doireann Ní Ghríofa
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Eileen Casey
Eileen Sheehan
Eleanor Hooker
Elizabeth Bishop
Ellen Kombiyil
Emilia Ivancu
Emily Berry
Emily Dickinson
Eva H.D.
Fiona Moore
Fiona Sampson
Fran Lock
Frances Horovitz
Geraldine Clarkson
Gill Andrews
Gillian Allnut
Gillian Clarke
Grace Wells
Hannah Lowe
Helen Farish
Helen Mort
Ileana Malancioiu
Ingrid de Kok
Isobel Dixon
Jackie Kay
Jane Clarke
Jane Kenyon
Jane Hirshfield
Jane Weir
Jannice Thaddeus
Jean O’Brien
Jessamine O’Connor
Jessie Lendennie
Jessica Traynor
Jenny Lewis
Jodie Matthews
Joan McBreen
Jo Shapcott
Kapka Kassabova
Karen Press
Karen Solie
Kate Noakes
Katherine Kilalea
Kathryn Simmonds
Kathy D’Arcy
Kerrin McCaddon
Kerrie O’Brien
Kerry Hardie
Kit Fryatt
Kimberly Campanello
Kim Moore
Leanne O’Sullivan
Leeanne Quinn
Leontia Flynn
Lianne Strauss
Lo Kwa Mei-en
Maeve O’Sullivan
Maggie Harris
Marcela Sulak
Marie Howe
Martina Evans
Marion McCready
Mary Mullen
Mary Noonan
Mary O’Malley
Maya Catherine Popa
Meg Bateman
Medbh McGuckian
Meredith Andrea
Minal Hajratwala
Michelle O’Sullivan
Molly Minturn
Monica Corish
Moniza Alvi
Moya Cannon
Natasha Trethaway
Nell Regan
Nessa O’Mahony
Nicki Jackowska
Nina Karacosta
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Nuala Ní Dhomnhnaill
Orlaith Foyle
Paisley Rekdal
Pascal Petit
Pat Borthwick
Paula Cunningham
Paula Meehan
Renée Sarjini Saklikar
Rita Ann Higgins
River Wolton
Robyn Rowland
Roisín Kelly
Rosemary Tonks
Ruth Padel
Robin Houghton
Sandra Ann Winters
Sarah Clancy
Sarah Howe
Shirley McClure
Shikiha Malavia
Silvia Secco
Sharon Olds
Sinéad Morrissey
Sophie Hannah
Sujata Bhatt
Susan Millar du Mars
Suji Kwok Kim
Sylvia Plath
Tania Hershman
Theresa Muñoz
Ulrikka S. Gernes
Victoria Kennefick
Virginia Astley
Vona Groarke
Wislawa Szymborska
Zoë Brigley

Mrs Quasimodo by Carol Ann Duffy


Mrs Quasimodo

I’d loved them fervently since childhood.
Their generous bronze throats
gargling, or chanting slowly, calming me–
the village runt, name-called, stunted, lame, hare-lipped:
but bearing up, despite it all, sweet-tempered, good at 
an ugly cliché in a field
pressing dock leaves to her fat, stung calves
and listening to the five cool bells of evensong.
I believed that they could even make it rain. 
The city suited me; my lumpy shadow
lurching on its jagged alley walls;
my small eyes black
as rained-on cobblestones.
I frightened cats.
I lived alone up seven flights,
boiled potatoes on a ring 
and fried a single silver fish;
then stared across the grey lead roofs
as dusk’s blue rubber rubbed them out,
and then the bells began.
I climbed the belltower steps,
out of breath and sweating anxiously, puce-faced
and found the campanologists beneath their ropes.
They made a space for me,
telling their names,
and when it came to him
I felt a thump of confidence,
A recognition like a struck match in my head.
It was Christmas time.
When the others left,
He fucked me underneath the gaping, stricken bells
Until I wept
Something had changed,
Or never been.
We wed.
He swung an epithalamium for me,
embossed it on the fragrant air.
Long, sexy chimes,
Exuberant peals,
Slow scales trailing up and down the smaller bells,
An angelus.
We had no honeymoon
But spent the week in bed.
And did I kiss
Each part of him –
That horseshoe mouth,
That tetrahedron nose,
That squint left eye,
That right eye with its pirate wart,
The salty leather of that pig’s hide throat,
And give his cock
A private name–
Or not?
So more fool me.
We lived in the cathedral grounds.
The bellringer.
The hunchbacks wife.
(The Quasimodo’s. Have you met them. Gross.)
And got a life.
Our neighbours – sullen gargoyles, fallen angels, cowled
Who raised their marble hands in greeting
As I passed along the gravel paths,
My husband’s supper on a tray beneath a cloth.
But once,
One evening in the lady chapel on my own,
Throughout his ringing of the seventh hour,
I kissed the cold lips of a Queen next to her king.
Soon enough
He started to find fault.
Why did I this?
How could I that?
Look at myself.
And in that summer’s dregs,
I’d see him
Watch the pin-up gypsy
Posing with the tourists in the square;
Then turn his discontented, mulish eye on me
With no more love than a stone.
I should have known.
Because it’s better, isn’t it, to be well formed.
Better to be slim, be slight,
Your slender neck quoted between two thumbs;
And beautiful, with creamy skin,
And tumbling auburn hair,
Those devastating eyes;
And have each lovely foot
Held in a bigger hand
And kissed;
Then be watched till morning as you sleep,
So perfect, vulnerable and young
You hurt his blood.
And given sanctuary.
But not betrayed. Not driven to an ecstasy of loathing of yourself;
Banging your ugly head against a wall,
Gaping in the mirror at your heavy dugs,
Your thighs of lard,
Your mottled upper arms;
Thumping your belly –
Look at it –
Your wobbling gut.
You pig. You stupid cow. You fucking buffalo.
Abortion. Cripple. Spastic. Mongol. Ape
Where did it end?
A ladder. Heavy tools. A steady hand.
And me, alone all night up there,
Bent on revenge.
He had pet names for them.
The belfry trembled when she spoke for him,
I climbed inside her with the claw-hammer,
My pliers, my saw, my clamp;
And, though it took an agonizing hour,
Ripped out her brazen tongue
And let it fall.
Then Josephine,
His second favourite bell,
Kept open her astonished golden lips
And let me in.
The bells. The bells.
I made them mute.
No more arpeggios or scales, no stretti, trills
For christenings, weddings, great occasions, happy days
No more practising
For bellringers
On smudgy autumn nights.
O clarity of sound, divine, articulate,
To purify the air
And bow the heads of drinkers in the city bars.
No single
Funeral note
To answer
I sawed and pulled and hacked.
I wanted silence back.
Get this:
When I was done,
and bloody to the wrist
I squatted down among the murdered music of the bells
And pissed.