by Maram al-Masri, trans. Theo Dorgan





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Clíona Ní Riordáin reviews Doireann Ní Ghríofa's newest poetry collection.




Clíona Ní Ríordáin

Clíona Ní Ríordáin lives in Paris and teaches at the Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle. She is editor of Four Irish Poets / Quatre Poetes Irlandais (Dedalus, 2011); and of Femmes d'Irlande en poésie 1973-2013 (Editions Caractères, Paris 2013). Jeune poésie d'Irlande, an anthology of Munster poets in translation co-edited by Clíona Ní Ríordáin and Paul Bensimon was published in 2015 by Editions Illador.








Clasp by Doireann Ni Ghriofa


Doireann Ní Ghríofa

(Dedalus Press, 2015)

ISBN: 978 1 910251 02 7

€11.50 paperback

Buy from Dedalus Press





“Poetry begins where language starts: in the shadows and accidents of one person’s life,” says Eavan Boland in her preface to the volume A Journey With Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet. The accidents of Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s linguistic life have meant that she has moved between languages. After an assured start in Irish, with two volumes published by Coiscéim, Résheoid and Dúlasair, Clasp is a remarkable first collection in English. The book is divided into three sections: Clasp, Cleave and Clench. All the power of Ní Ghríofa’s voice in Irish is to be found within these pages, the dark intensity of Dúlasair (Dark Flame) is reflected in the tight verbal titles of the different subsections of the new collection. The variety of tone and subject matter is astonishing. Amongst the most striking poems are 'The Horse Under The Hearth' (p. 12-13), a companion piece to Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, voiced by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, imagined for Art’s horse, in scenes reminiscent of The Godfather: “And so her head came back, in a wet sack that leaked in my lap”. Striking too is the poem 'Maeve in Chile', where the warrior queen and the legendary poem 'Valparaiso' intersect with John Montague’s 'Grafted Tongue': “I know the shape of a dead tongue in my mouth” (p. 15).


Ní Ghríofa raids the myth-kitty of both Irish and Greek mythology, weaving images of violence that combine the ancient and the modern in a poetry that is tense and tactile, inscribing loss visually in poems like 'Instructions To Kill a Daughter’s Minotaur' (p. 17-18), where the mutilation is reflected in the split cleaving the the poem in two. The woman’s body is central to the collection, highlighted, visible, unconquered. Forgotten bones are reclaimed, gendered territory is staked out; it is clear that Ní Ghríofa’s has a voice which will not be silenced. On the contrary, as in “Valise of Memories” (p. 14) or “Bone Flute”, she is determined to reawaken objectified, subaltern figures: “Breath into bone, her air raises you. She lifts your wing/ and, over dark hills, a new sound sings” (p. 26).


Ní Ghríofa does not shy away either from contemporary Irish subjects—a poem called 'Waking' (p. 27) is dedicated to Savita Halappanavar. In that poem and in others, 'Inventory: Recovery Room' (p. 34) for instance, terms like “procedure”, “loss” and “scar” trace the emptiness within a woman’s body as she is left to contemplate: “an empty cot, a hand-knit blanket/ a small white hat and an unused nappy, flat”. The opposition between the cold clinical terms and the livid body-felt loss reclaim the emotion that is evacuated by such distance-making terminology. Elsewhere, in 'At Letterfrack', the epigraph taken from the Ryan Report leads to a meditation on the industrial schools’ runaway boys. The focus on the bog and the menace of “swallowed people” send us back to the “Bog poems” of Seamus Heaney’s North and make of the boys companions to the Grauballe Man, victims of a sacrificial cult as deadly as that of the goddess Nerthus.


Boland once evoked the subjects that did not make it into Irish poems, among them the invisible suburban lives of young mothers. In the second section of Clasp, entitled “Cleave”, the life of a young woman and her daily cares are central—'On Bringing a First Child to School' (p. 40) with its laundry lines, or 'Cocoon' (p. 41) with its dinosaurs and Lego towers, thrust these moments into the spotlight. Yet Ní Ghríofa is audacious enough to mobilise the arch-poet, WB Yeats himself in 'Cuchulain Comforted', as an inter-text for a car-ride with a young son: “A twin whistling turns my mirror-glance back/ to you, small son, where suddenly you too,/ have the throat of a thrush,” (p. 39).


The final section “Clench” is composed of 'Seven Views of Cork City'. In this appropriation of the city Ní Ghríofa, like Seán Dunne or Thomas McCarthy before her, explores the contours of her adopted city. Section III and IV follow young madwomen of Cork on alcohol fuelled journeys through the city, name-checking streets and night-time haunts like Lennox’s chipper (p. 68). One section floats into the other by association, taking us in the bowels of the Mercy Hospital. The narrative thrust pushes us along with the poet-narrator, disguised she may be as “one of a hundred fools/ in flowery nighties in a hundred hospital windows” (p. 73). However, the breathing exercises that mark the seventh and final section, “clench/release/breathe deep”, repeated rhythmically, display a return to control, a poise translated by the capital letters of the final CLENCH, a defiant fist raised to the world (p. 73). In Clasp Ní Ghríofa has signalled that she is a poetic force to be reckoned with in the future.


©2015 Clíona Ní Riordáin



Author Links


Clíona Ní Ríordáin at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle

Jeune poésie d'Irlande

Purchase Four Irish Poets from Dedalus

"'Puddling at the Source': Seamus Heaney and the classical text"
(article by Ní Ríordáin)






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