KATHERINE NOONE came late to poetry. Born near Gort, she spent decades working as a nurse in New York before retiring to Galway where, as people do, she began writing poetry.
Making up for her late exit from the starting gates, Noone has published prolifically over the past few years. Her poems have appeared widely in Ireland and she has been a regular contributor to the leading British poetry magazine Orbis which, in its time, has published the work of many now famous poets, from Brendan Kennelly to new British Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.
Her debut collection was published by Lapwing in 2017 and her follow up, Out Here, is now available from the same publisher. At its best Noone’s poetry has a wit that rivals Wendy Cope and Stevie Smith. Like them, her poetry is destined to be unfashionable in her own time. Most poetry publishers and critics tend to be more interested in promoting the poetry of lithe young things than of the slightly left field voice of experience which Noone’s work offers.
'Noone is not one of those who holds yesterday to be better than today. Her poems are infused with a profound sense of time getting on, and she is a supreme practitioner of the surprising last line'
Her poetry has its nostalgic moments, but Noone’s nostalgia usually comes with a sting. In ‘Lord And Taylor On Fifth’ the narrator remembers a New York store she used to frequent. Her memory is a fond one: “Here camaraderie amongst the customers./Long Island housewives and those/From the Upper East Side, congregate/For coffee and cheesecake...” But the final stanza gives the reader a gentle punch in the stomach: “If those walls had voices,/They would never convert/To office space.”
According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, Amazon is considering buying the space where Katherine once “rode the escalators/To the sales.” Re-read with such knowledge, this poem moves beyond nostalgia and, though this may not have been the author’s original intention, becomes a poem of protest against the way capitalism eventually eats everything, even the better aspects of itself.
Noone is not, though, one of those who holds yesterday to be better than today. Rather, her poems are infused with a profound sense of time getting on, and she is a supreme practitioner of the surprising last line. Both these traits are illustrated in the gorgeously spare ‘Hanging Out’, in which she returns to her native ground: “On a December day/Stillness in it, cows and bullocks/Graze winterage pastures...” The making of this poem is its closing couplet, particularly the glorious wit of the final line: “Limp leaves huddle in clusters. / Put their final flights on hold.”
There is though not even the smallest hint of crankiness in Noone’s view of the contemporary world. 'Fresh-Men’ celebrates intoxicated students passing her apartment on their way home “At one or three in the morning.” My favourite lines in this fine collection are the last two in her poem about old Valentine cards: “‘with love from Pete’ survives. // Long after he petered out.”