Elaine Feeney: one of Ireland’s growing band of young political poets

Elaine Feeney.

Elaine Feeney.

CÚIRT’S NEW programme director Dani Gill was determined this year’s festival should not be dominated by recycled names from previous years.

The inclusion of Elaine Feeney, whose first collection of poems Where’s Katie? was published by Salmon last year, is proof that this is indeed Cúirt made new.

Elaine was born in Galway in 1979 and is one of a group of young political poets – others would include Dave Lordan and Sarah Clancy – who have sprung to prominence recently and who share a declamatory style of reading their poems.

Elaine’s dramatic, witty, and very appealing reading style won the Cúirt Poetry Grand Slam in 2008 and her winning poem, ‘Urban Myths and the Galway Girl’, is a favourite in the justifiably acclaimed Where’s Katie?

“Everywhere in Galway waters down her vodka./She’ll tell Pauline that Christine is a wench/she’ll tell Christine that Pauline is loose./She tells me about all the pills the husband is taking/for the cough and the limp dick and all/nothing is working/loveeeen.”

The main inspiration which brought about this poem appears to have been real people talking rubbish. In this, Elaine is an example other poets might like to consider following. So often, the poetry is all around you, in the form of the truly incredible things people actually say, and all you need to do is write it down.

Elaine, along with Lordan and Clancy, also share radical leftist politics of slightly varying shades. All three have signed up to support a cultural boycott of Israel by Irish artists.

This is a stance I would not be at all convinced of myself - not because I’m any fan of how the Israeli state has abused and continues to abuse Palestinians - but rather because it puts the well meaning in dodgy political company, inevitably including one or two who think of Colonel Ghaddafi as some kind of anti-imperialist.

However, Elaine’s poem ‘Gaza’, in which she makes imaginative reference to William Carlos Williams’ ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’, is a powerful statement on a subject fraught with cliché. Its end is stark: “Snap.//The little girl drops like//the plastic bullets all around her,/slumps on her wheelbarrow,/upon which so much depended.”

Elaine cut her teeth as a poet at events such as North Beach Poetry Nights during those couple of really crazy years before the crash; her poetry is ideally suited to the angrier, more politically engaged, country we have woken up in to find not just the party over, but all future parties cancelled.

That said, there is more to her than anger. In ‘Love’ she says: “If Love were served as a mojito with ice,/I would shove its leaves/to the recess of my throat/and beg for mercy.”

Something about this image of Elaine throwing back a Mojito humanises her anger and makes the reader listen all the more intently.

Elaine Feeney will be reading alongside young Slovenian novelist Goran Vojnovic at the Druid Lane Theatre on Wednesday at 1pm. Admission is free.

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