Blues, wit and haiku

THERE ARE those who say there are too many women poets nowadays. For these reactionary critics all was well in the garden of poetry until it was ruined by feminism and the advent of poetry workshops, which have conspired together to encourage many more women to write poetry. And most of it, shock horror, does not even rhyme.

In this context, it’s great to be able to welcome debut poetry collections by three very different female poets; each of which does its bit to confirm that the old style poetry world, in which women knew their supposed place, no longer exists except in the dreams of male versifiers of a certain age.

First up is The Geese at The Gates by Drucilla Wall (Salmon Poetry ). Drucilla was born in Philadelphia, is part Native American, lives in St Louis, and spends most of her summers in Ireland.

Her poems reflect the variety of her life experience. ‘Hannibal, Missouri’ is a perfect country blues poem: “Finn came back home today, his second tour of duty done,/after leaving both his legs on a road back in east Afghanistan.”

Wall writes with great compassion, without ever lapsing into sentimentality, about an America that rarely makes it into poetry.

Her language has its own rough beauty. In ‘Cat Revelation’ the cat in question is described as “one fine haven for bugs/and stink.” In ‘On Teaching History’ she gives full vent to the wit that is central to her very appealing poetic style. And ‘Beer Can Chicken’ is simply delicious: “Tell the new girl to dig in./No plates, no forks, just dig in./Dig in before it’s gone./Tear off a piece./That’s the way we roll./Welcome to Kansas.” Drucilla Wall is my kind of poet.

At just 30 years of age Ailbhe Darcy is a real rising star of Irish poetry at the moment. I am proud to say that Ailbhe’s first published poem appeared in the Galway based Burning Bush magazine, which I co-edited with Mike Begnal, back in 2000, when she was just 19.

In Imaginary Menagerie (Bloodaxe ) she shows that she is the most liberated kind of poet.

In ‘The mornings you turn into a grub’ and ‘He Tells Me I Have A Strange Relationship’ she writes with great originality and imagination. At times her images shock: “You warn the ceiling,/‘I think I’m having a heart attack.’ Your chest/seems to swell/or contract. You wonder/if you have woken as a fat, middle-aged man,/instead of beside one.” She makes perfect use of line breaks here.

Elsewhere, in poems such as the light hearted ‘Socks’ and the at times post-apocalyptic ‘Market Square, Five Years After’ she writes with a subversive humour that’s always threatening to overthrow the world as we think we know it. Imaginary Menagerie is a debut collection of rare accomplishment and polish.

Maeve O’Sullivan’s collection Initial Response (Alba Publishing ) is made up exclusively of haiku. A haiku consists of three lines and, when written in Japanese, a total of 17 syllables. There are, generally speaking, no adjectives or overt statements. Each line contains its own specific image and the third and final line is meant to turn the poem around, to startle the reader.

O’Sullivan has divided the book into 26 different sections with headings such as ‘Autumn’, ‘J’aime Paris’, ‘Nursing Home’, and ‘Tunisia’, each subject having six haiku dedicated to it.

One of my personal favourites is in the section titled ‘Postcards From Hollywood’: “Cha Cha Lounge/slumped over the counter—/the bartender”.


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