Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Irish Women Poets I: Moya Cannon and Leontia Flynn

St. Patrick’s Day is almost here.  Let’s celebrate with the poetry from Irish women poets.

by Moya Cannon

Where an ash bush grows in the lake
a ring of stones has broken cover
in this summer’s drought.
Not high enough to be an island,
it holds a disc of stiller water
in the riffled lake.

Trees have reclaimed the railway line behind us;
behind that, the road goes east —
as two lines parallel in space and time run away with us
this discovered circle draws us in.
In drowned towns
bells toll only for sailors and for the credulous
but this necklace of wet stones,
remnant of a wattle Atlantis,
catches us all by the throat.

We don’t know what beads or blades
are held in the bog lake’s wet amber
but much of us longs to live in water
and we recognise this surfacing
of old homes of love and hurt.

A troubled bit of us is kin
to people who drew a circle in water,
loaded boats with stone,
and raised a dry island and a fort
with a whole lake for a moat.

[The title is Irish and refers to a prehistoric dwelling, an artificially created island in a lake.  These were used for defensive residence during the Iron Age.]

MOYA CANNON, born in Dunfanaghy, County Donegal, now lives in Galway.  She studied history and politics at University College, Dublin and international relations at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.  

Her first collection, Oar, won the inaugural Brendan Behan Award and, in 2011, she was the recipient of the Laurence O Shaughnessy Award (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota).  Her other books include The Parchment Boat (1998); Carrying the Songs: New and Selected Poems (2008) and Hands (2011).

A number of her poems have been set to music and she’s worked with traditional Irish musicians, amongst them Kathleen Loughnane and Maighread and Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, both in the context of performance and of translating Gaelic songs.  Moya Cannon has edited Poetry Ireland Review and, in 2004, was elected to Aosdana, the Irish affiliation of creative artists.  In 2011 she was the holder of the Heimbold Chair of Irish Studies at Villanova University, PA.

Viola D’Amore
by Moya Cannon

Sometimes, love does die, 
but sometimes, a stream on porous rock,
it slips down into the inner dark of a hill,
joins with other hidden streams
to travel blind as the white fish that live in it.
It forsakes one underground streambed
for the cave that runs under it.
Unseen, it informs the hill
and, like the hidden streams of the viola d’amore,
makes the hill reverberate,
so that people who wander there
wonder why they find wells.

Click here for an interview with Moya Cannon.

With a different poetic voice from Moya Cannon, our second poet, Leontia Flynn, is also a poet from Northern Ireland.  She’s been “celebrated as an original poet — nervy, refreshing, deceptively simple.”  Here are two poems.

by Leontia Flynn

When you had packed up all your books and clothes
and taken the last crap poster down, and walked
like a mournful ghost through the blank, familiar rooms,
a thought struck — clang — loud as a two-pence piece
in a metal bucket: where was the vibrator?

Oh cruel Gods!  Oh vulgar implement
that was stowed discreetly on some shelf or cupboard
but has almost certainly not been boxed away …
Oh dirty gift of doubtful provenance.
Oh gift — surprise! — for the next week’s settling tenants.

Oh nice surprise for next week’s settling tenants,
four Polish men paid peanuts by the hour
—for in Belfast too The Market holds its sway —
to find in some nook or niche-hole the vibrator
still beats, in the dark, its battery-powered heart.
© 2011, Leontia Flynn

Leontia Flynn won an Eric Gregory Award in 2001.  Her first book of poems These Days (2004) won the Forward Poetry Prize for best First Collection.  It also was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize.  Drives, her second poetry collection, was published in 2008.  That same year she won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and a major Individual Artists Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.  Drives also was shortlisted for the 2009 Poetry Now Award.  Her third collection, Profit and Loss,published in 2011, was the Poetry Book Society Choice for Autumn as well as being shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.

Leontia Flynn has written a Ph.D. thesis on the Irish woman poet Medbh McGuckian.  She’s been Research Fellow at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Queen’s University Belfast since 2005 and currently edits the journal The Yellow Nib with Frank Ormsby. 

by Leontia Flynn

Rick (to Ilse): Who are you really and what were you before?  What did you do, and what did you think?

A plane is taking off in a bank of fog.
It leaves the grainy sky, the mapped Moroccan sand.
It is four months since I’ve seen you.  In my hand
the video’s controls point in the air.
“Who were we really and what were we before?”
These things are turning over in my mind

as the plane starts banking down.  It comes to land
on a grainy fog bank on a concrete plain.
Casablanca backwards; in this version
Rick Blaine sticks his neck out — really — for no one.
As time does not go by.  As history gives way to love —
all the rain of Morocco is raining back to the source!
the rain-soaked note resolving into words.
One tear streams back up Ingrid Bergman’s face.
© 2006, Leontia Flynn

Here are two links to hear (sound only) Leontia Flynn read two more poems:

Click to hear Flynn read Dorothy Parker.

Click to hear Flynn read Drive.

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