Two women’s poems of experience

Keeping Watch by Katherine Noone (56pp €12), Confluence of Wakes by Jean Folan (80pp €12), both published by Lapwing

Detail from a painting by Marc Chagall.

Detail from a painting by Marc Chagall.

POST-HEANEY, Irish poetry is in desperate need of a 'next big thing'. It should, preferably, be a poet with a haircut sufficiently stylish to allow him/her at least pretend to be young.

In these dark times, said poet must pretend to be a bit political, but in an acceptable way - ie, be for repealing the 8th Amendment and horrified by Trump, but not see what the fuss was about water charges and be unconcerned by things like the smearing of Maurice McCabe. What is needed, in essence, is a presentable liberal in her/his thirties.

There are many objections to be made to this scheme to find and canonise Ireland’s next big poet – not least that presentable liberals tend to write so dully it can make you pine for your own death. More insidious is that it is blatantly discriminatory against the many mature woman poets, such as Katherine Noone and Jean Folan, both of whom have published new collections, and who had other lives before they began writing - lives in which they were nurses, scientists, academics, and single parents.

In Katherine Noone's Keeping Watch, the opening stanza of  ‘Voices’ is like a cross between a Patrick Kavanagh poem and a Chagall painting: “The village dies with you/old men endowed with tales/of tillage, livestock and fairs.” Noone often closes her short poems with some magical images. In ‘Fall’ the leaves tumbling from the trees outside her window are “brown angels on a final mission". In ‘Promenade’ she remembers someone who has passed: “Your brown sheepdog/forever in your wake/sunlight/sets his tail ablaze.”

Many of her poems ache for a gone world, yet gracefully accept that world's passing. However Noone is also a poet acutely aware of the world as it goes on; ‘One Summer’s Eve’ shows profound empathy for the mother of an attempted suicide who waits “at the other side of town” as “A helicopter looms low/over the river.” Noone may be a poet still learning her trade, but Keeping Watch contains many moments of pure gold.

Folan’s Confluence of Wakes is divided into three sections, each of which forensically investigates an aspect of her life or heritage. The first looks at her widowhood and life as a single parent. There are many moments of wry sadness, such as in ‘Anniversary’, when she goes into a shop intending to buy roses for her husband’s grave but “on impulse I buy sunflowers/recall how that last summer/you grew them”. The final stanza is perfection: “I wonder when you sowed/those sunflower seeds, had/you already begun to turn/a wreathed smile to the sun?” Flowers are important to Folan’s imagery and this is an impressive collection by a poet whose work should be far more widely read than it is.

Keeping Watch by Katherine Noone and Confluence of Wakes by Jean Folan, both published by Lapwing Publications, will have their Galway launch at the Over The Edge Writers’ Gathering at The Kitchen, Galway City Museum, on Friday March 10 at 8pm. Also reading will be Briton Steve Pottinger and Mayo's Ger Reidy. All are welcome.


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