Elaine Feeney - poetry at the edge

Rise by Elaine Feeney (Salmon Poetry)

Athenry poet Elaine Feeney. Photo:- Dean Kelly

Athenry poet Elaine Feeney. Photo:- Dean Kelly

LAST YEAR marked the 35th anniversary of the founding of Salmon press, during which its incredible contribution to Galway's cultural life was fully celebrated. Those heady days of the eighties were brought back to mind when Rita Anne Higgins, Mary O’Malley, and Eva Bourke were given a platform to present their challenging poems to a bewildered, if generally receptive, audience.

It is heartening to see Salmon continuing this tradition by publishing such equally challenging poets as Sarah Clancy, Kerrie O’Brien, Dani Gill, and Elaine Feeney. That such poets continue to question our perceived (and comfortable ) boundaries is amply demonstrated by Rise, Elaine Feeney's third, and by far most ambitious and ground breaking, collection.

In the second poem, her impatience to get the ball moving surfaces: “I dressed myself in the morning’s hawkish cold,/lit by my neighbour’s hand torch in the field over./Early rise makes flickering reels on the curtain hem./I painted on my face shadows in circles,/as he fed grazing silage to the cow on her knees,/full as a winter barrel of rainwater./And me, willing hard to keep my powder dry,/or at the very list, today, hold my whist."

Her effort to “hold my whist” doesn’t last long. The next poem opens with a more despondent note “There’s nothing holy about dying on a hospital ward./ There’s nothing at all about it./There’s no worship or heroics about it.” Her near death experience unleashes her anger, but her husband calms her: “And I respect him. Only him, he has a quiet way to silence me with his love.”

From then on, Feeney's holds nothing back, her anger, fear, and vulnerability expressing itself forcefully as she tries to come to grips with her womanhood in a hostile and uncaring world, courageously exploring the English language in trying to make sense of it all. Her frustration in not achieving this, results in a series of angry poems, sometimes descending to the level of ranting, until she resolves her personal dilemma by discarding her vulnerability and facing her demons.

The final poem 'Rise' is a rallying call, and not just for herself or her gender: “rise the love in your bed/rise your husband/rise her husband rise your boss/and keep doing it/make them earn you/rise them out of it/rise yourself into it”. She finishes the poem and the collection with: “rise out of their history books and into your history/ write it down yourself/bring it with you/ even on the back of your hand to remind you?/it’s there rising”.

Rise is a courageous, honest, and generous collection, a rallying call for all humanity to surmount the barricades of our fears and to face them down. It deserves our close attention.

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