OVER THE last 10 years, women’s poetry in the west of Ireland has re-energised itself. Taking its cue from the pioneering work of Rita Anne Higgins, Mary O’Malley, Eva Bourke, and Anne Kennedy, it seems to have matured on to another level, adding a new dimension, energy, and maturity to the female poetic voice.
This exciting voice characterises the work of Geraldine Mitchell, Sarah Clancy, and Elaine Feeney, but also Jessamine O’Connor, who comes from Dublin, but for almost 20 years has lived on the Sligo/Roscommon border and been involved in the cultural life and creative writing groups in and around Ballaghderreen. She was also the main mover in organising a library for the Syrian refugees prior to their arrival in Roscommon.
The author of four poetry chapbooks, she has just self-published her first full volume, Pact. Self-published poetry books tend to be indulgent and have little, if any, poetic value. It is immediately obvious from Pact though, that not only do these poems lack indulgence, they mark the arrival of a new, powerful, and lyrical voice that is here to stay.
In her endorsement of the book, Sarah Clancy writes: “These barefaced poems don’t back down from anything or anyone. Jessamine takes her pen to the world around her and documents it in all its misshapen ugliness and all its impossible beauty. These poems don’t flinch from how much life hurts but somehow in their humour, kindness and lightness they show us how to love it anyway."
In the second poem, O’Connor lays out her stall: “The old woman in me is free/ of convention,/of wariness and watchoutfulness,/of fear/for her children/for herself/being caught out slipping up,/fear of actually slipping up/, or of injuring her precious body/with recklessness,/so the old woman is fearless,/feckless/and dangerous.//“I am the old woman/ waiting to be born.”
The collection is imbued with a restrained energy and controlled anger that sometimes breaks loose. 'I am not your pet' begins “I am not your pet,/ your good deed,/your project.//I am here/ because I survived/a journey I hope you never/know what it’s like to make." It concludes: “I am not your funding opportunity,/free ticket or something/ to look good on your CV./You don’t need to know/what’s best for me.//I am not your pet.”
In contrast to this somewhat defiant tone there is the tender 'At the seaside': “Small boy throwing stones/Into a wild blue sky,/He scoops quickly, watching/ as the first ones fall”; and the moving 'Brothers – 7th May 1916' which describes the final meeting between Richard Kent and Eamon Ceannt the night before the latter’s execution: “Another handshake, still not a tremor,/ and the door clangs between us.//Back into the rain and the night.//This was my last glance at my brother.//The candle as still burning”.
Pact is a fascinating intriguing first collection introducing an energetic and promising new poet who has something to say and no fear in saying it.