Poems by Mary O’Donnell

Marriage Advice, 1951

Glossy women made her tremble,
every word shiny and sure,
we’re going to give Jenny a make-over,
Jen, the decaying building,
the clueless relic.

They made her sweat, even more,
those women with Dior skirts
and nipped-in waists, who warned
the night before the wedding
about being prepared.

But it was 1951. Next day,
she tried not to faint at the altar
although the neighbours whispered,
later forced herself to stuff
some morsel of the wedding breakfast
through her lips, like bad language
or something a woman never did
masticate, masticate, chew, chew, swallow,
the fist of the still-hidden child
walloping her gorge as the best man rose,
twinkle-eyed, yellow card in hand,
a twist of jokes she’d be bound to appreciate.

Marriage Advice 1951 is © Mary O’Donnell



It has grown, not darkly, like mould, that sunless green. Sitting
provides the habit of air. Children – trees, coats, limbs,
the bounce of long hair as they troop the school road –

means stillness, expansion, despite unspeakable radio news
on the murder of infants in temperate suburbs. Muffled, gloved,
I grow in a car at the end of an eight-year planting, half of me

mulling the latest distant shooting. I would like to book a flight,
transplant skills, solutions, get there fast. Instead, I wait, the smell
of cooked dinner impregnating denims, boots, my cap, which she

inhales as she steps inside the car. I hold myself together
beneath iced winter branches in grey couteur, feel an invisible
frieze of buds stirring slowly, steady in deep cold.


Waiting is © Mary O’Donnell

Mary O' Donnell

Mary O’ Donnell

Mary O’Donnell is the author of eleven books, both poetry and fiction, and has also co-edited a book of translations from the Galician. Her titles include the best-selling literary novel “The Light-Makers”, “Virgin and the Boy”, and “The Elysium Testament”, as well as poetry such as “The Place of Miracles”, “Unlegendary Heroes”, and her most recent critically acclaimed sixth collection “The Ark Builders” (Arc Publications UK, 2009). She has been a teacher and has worked intermittently in journalism, especially theatre criticism. Her essays on contemporary literary issues are widely published. She also presented and scripted three series of poetry programmes for the national broadcaster RTE Radio, including a successful series on poetry in translation during 2005 and 2006 called ‘Crossing the Lines‘. Today, she teaches creative writing in a part time capacity at NUI Maynooth, and has worked on the faculty of Carlow University Pittsburgh’s MFA programme in creative writing, as well as on the faculty of the University of Iowa’s summer writing programme at Trinity College Dublin.

Veracity and Other Stories, poems by Sarah Clancy

Thanks For Nothing Hippies, 2012

Thanks For Nothing Hippies, 2012. Sarah Clancy

The following two poems are by Sarah Clancy  from a forthcoming collection of prose and poetry, called Friction.

Veracity and other stories

for Alice Kennelly
I’ve lived in four different decades today
stepped onto three continents
I took no visas no tickets no passports
I wrote my own bill of passage I forged it
and what of my fraud if it served us?
I inhabited flesh that wasn’t my own
I scratched it kneaded stiff shoulders
with hands that emerged from some other wrists
some forearms some oxters then I left it
I walked from it and encountered new bones
new ligaments new eyes with which I saw
what I wanted I decided you were an abstraction
so I tried to walk through you but couldn’t
I put my palm on your chest but it met
with resistance I got caught in your substance
then fuck it I lied about it said you meant nothing
that your whole existence was a blip a pot-hole
that no-one was fixing and I burst a tyre or might have
I buckled my wheel rims in it didn’t I?
but then I gunned it and drove on
I read my old diaries as page turners with no idea
what might happen from one page to the next
I took guesses blind stabs at historic events
to see if it seemed like they’d happened me
then whatever I remembered what I wanted
even if I had to invent it I swore it as fact
rose to my feet to defend it
it was my truth in that moment and there wasn’t
a chance I’d let it be rebutted and as a result
I found myself heartless my past cast off
all reinvented and I liked it I was made light by it
and as to the future all those futures I’m writing
I’m telling you I’ll inhabit several actions at once
and believe what I want
I’ll pay no dues to this fiction
this tyrant
this actual bastard
I’m over it.
©Sarah Clancy January 2013

I met the take-it back man down in the shopping centre
where he was soap boxing, waxing lyrical and I drank his potion.
It was said that it could cure the worst of all the words
you’d ever spewed out in fury or in disappointment
and if a cure was beyond the bounds of either language or elixirs
it could reclaim the offending utterances and put them in storage
so long as you swallowed and didn’t spit that is. It could make
happenstances fall from their standing, go over old ground
and make it new sown, it could undo the damage sharp tongues
had inflicted on the unsuspecting, the suspicious and the blameless.
It could pale the blushes from stupid outbursts, cool them
before they ever hit your cheekbones – if that is you took
just two small mouthfuls and vowed to stay quiet for the duration
of its troubled ingestion. It could banish shame before it ever
caught your tonsils and traipsed its way down your resistant gullet
I know it sounds far-fetched but I for one swallowed it.
©Sarah Clancy November 2012

Ileana Mãlãncioiu and her craft

I am adding  here The Headless Bird by Ileana Mãlãncioiu, in translation by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.

The Headless Bird

According to custom, the old people have shut me away
Not to scare me stupid when they killed the bird,
And I am listening by the bolted door
To the trampling and the struggle.

I twist the lock time has worn thin
To forget what I have heard, to get away
From this struggle where
The body races after the head.

And I jump when the eyes, thick with fear
Turn backwards, turn white,
They look like grains of maize,
The others come and peck at them.

I take the head in one hand, the rest in the other,
And when the weight grows too much I switch them
. . .   around
Until they are dead, so they are still connected
At least in this way, through my body.

But the head dies sooner,
As if the cut had not been properly done,
And so that the body does not struggle alone
I wait for death to reach it passing through me.

© Ileana Mãlãncioiu , Trans. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Ileana Mãlãncioiu is a familiar poet to Irish readers as she is translated by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin in the editions,  After the Raising of Lazarus, (SouthWord) and more recently Legend of the Walled-Up Wife (Gallery Press). I have referred before now on the blog to  After the Raising of Lazarus, SouthWord Editions, 2005. Poems by Ileana Mălăncioiu. Translated from Romanian by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, which is in my small library of women poets and translators.

I thought to do a short post today on the work of collaborative translation, which my readers will know that I prefer in the approach to disseminating poetic literature. I also prefer bilingual poetry editions where possible. I think there is a good tradition of collaboration and poetic sympathy in Irish translators’ work, be it in Hugh Maxton’s sympathetic approach to the wonderful  Nagy, or Peter Fallon’s translations of The Georgics Of Virgil. I have also recommended  Tess Gallagher‘s translations of Liliana Ursu, and John Felstiner’s translations of Todesfuge by Paul Celan, as demonstrative of sympathetic approach in poetry translation. These authors have discussed their approach to translation in essays which are linked in the body of my short posts on the individual poets, or available in the books mentioned above.

Poethead readers interested in reading more on Ileana Mãlãncioiu  can access her reviews, her books and websites which I have included below this brief post in Related Links. I particularly recommend Jennifer Matthews’ review of Legend of the Walled-Up Wife for SouthWord.

Related Links

‘Chaplet’ by C Murray



A conversation amongst trees

I cannot hear what they are saying, that young girl
and the tree. Their whispers are intimate , ceaseless.

I am sunk into a conifer hedge, tamped into a wall,
threaded into the blue ivy.

This is a warm chaplet against the rain,
And I would lie here if it wasn’t for the sky-

the sky will not skew to my vision,
body conspires with green-leaf to thrust me forward.



 And I am become aware that it is time for this to cease,

A mead of daisies whiten on the windward side
of a grove. Trees,
daisies are blown white beneath silver beech.

Those hues balance
for once.

and If I step at once from the shelter of this close bower,
Will it hold ?

Chaplet(2003) Lambda Print, courtesy of Alice Maher and the Green on Red Gallery, Dublin.

Chaplet (2003) Lambda Print, courtesy of Alice Maher and the Green on Red Gallery, Dublin.

© C Murray

The image  Chaplet  is by Alice Maher and is used for this poem courtesy of Alice Maher and the Green on Red Gallery, Dublin, Ireland. This is a re-posting of the original Chaplet poem and image which had been password-protected for some time.


Chaplet, a poem by C Murray 

A poem by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill to celebrate International Women’s Day 2012

Happy International Women’s Day 2012. The following poem is by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill , there is a translation and attribution notice published separately to An Mhurúch san Ospidéal. 

An Mhurúch san Ospidéal

Dhúisigh sí
agus ní raibh a heireaball éisc ann
níos mó
ach istigh sa leaba léi
bhí an dá rud fada fuar seo.
Ba dhóigh leat gur gaid mhara iad
nó slaimicí feola.

‘Mar mhagadh atá siad
ní foláir,
Oíche na Coda Móire.
Tá leath na foirne as a meabhair
le deoch
is an leath eile acu
róthugtha do jokeanna.
Mar sin féin is leor an méid seo,’
is do chaith sí an dá rud
amach as an seomra.

Ach seo í an chuid
ná tuigeann sí —
conas a thit sí féin ina ndiaidh
Cén bhaint a bhí
ag an dá rud léi
nó cén bhaint a bhí aici

An bhanaltra a thug an nod di
is a chuir í i dtreo an eolais —
‘Cos í seo atá ceangailte díot
agus ceann eile acu anseo thíos fút.
Cos, cos eile,
a haon, a dó.

Caithfidh tú foghlaim
conas siúl leo.’

Ins na míosa fada
a lean
n’fheadar ar thit a croí
de réir mar a thit
trácht na coise uirthi,
a háirsí?

© by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, all rights reserved. from The Fifty Minute Mermaid (Gallery Books, 2007)

Thank you to Gallery Press for allowing me to use this poem to celebrate Irish Women’s Poetry and translation on International Women’s Day 2012. The English translation of the poem is here.

Clonfert Cathedral mermaid by Andreas F. Borchert