I think it is only fair to warn you that I am preparing to take an exam in
Irish poetry at the end of this term. Therefore, many if not most of our
readings from now until then will come from these sources. Today, for
instance, we have Eilean Ni Chuilleanain (i.e., launch a line in a line).
Born in 1942 in Cork, Ni Chulleanain has a distinctive pedigree, the
daughter of a professor of Irish and a novelist. She has published many
volumes of poetry since 1972, as well as written extensive criticism on
her contemporaries. Her prizes include the Patrick Kavanagh Award and the
1992 O’Shaughnessy Prize for poetry. She teaches at Trinity College.
Eilean Ni Chuilleanain’s poems seem to have less direct, obvious reference
to the contemporary, political, geographical, lived, Irish world than the
writing of other Irish poets do. Whereas Ireland’s reality has often
provided experience enough to base a writing career on, her poems tend to
inhabit a world of metaphor, from which the real world is–sometimes–
looked back upon. For instance, in the following poem we feel
isolation, illness, and anomie, but where does it occur, to whom, and why?
THE ABSENT GIRL
The absent girl is
conspicuous by her silence
Sitting at the courtroom window
Her cheek against the glass.
They pass her without a sound
And when they look for her face
Can only see the clock behind her skull;
Grey hair blinds her eyes
And night presses on the window-panes,
She can feel the glass cold
But with no time for pain
Searches for a memory lost with muscle and blood-
She misses her ligaments and the marrow of her bones.
The clock chatters; with no beating heart
Lung or breast how can she tell the time?
Her skin is shadowed
Where once the earthly sunlight blazed.