‘The Mermaid in the Hospital’ by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

She awoke
to find her fishtail
clean gone
but in the bed with her
were two long, cold thingammies.
You’d have thought they were tangles of kelp
or collops of ham.
‘They’re no doubt
taking the piss,
it being New Year’s Eve.
Half the staff legless
with drink
and the other half
playing pranks.
Still, this is taking it
a bit far.’
And with that she hurled
the two thingammies out of the room.
But here’s the thing
she still doesn’t get —
why she tumbled out after them
arse-over-tip . . .
How she was connected
to those two thingammies
and how they were connected
to her.
It was the sister who gave her the wink
and let her know what was what.
‘You have one leg attached to you there
and another one underneath that.
One leg, two legs . . .
A-one and a-two . . .
Now you have to learn
what they can do.’
In the long months
that followed
I wonder if her heart fell
the way her arches fell,
her instep arches.
© by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, all rights reserved. from The Fifty Minute Mermaid (Gallery Books, 2007) The Irish language  original is here.

Thank you to Suella Holland from Gallery Press for allowing me to use this poem to celebrate Irish Women’s Poetry and translation on International Women’s Day 2012.

Clonfert Cathedral Mermaid by Andreas F. Borchert

‘An Mhurúch san Ospidéal’ by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill


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

Posterity and all that.

Recently, I wrote a post about how government bodies tend to view poetry. Indeed, I would say their view tends toward jaundiced misunderstanding rather than outright aggression, but I could be wrong. The image embedded in the piece was of a woman placing flowers  at Ted Hughes‘  memorial stone in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey.

Ted Hughes’ stone was placed in close proximity to that of  T.S Eliots in the Abbey. Eliot, the banker, the poet, and the editor of Faber and Faber  mentored and supported Hughes throughout his career. Eliot’s writing was of the monumental type, and clearly directed to posterity, it lacked intimacy. I will admit that I do like Eliot. Especially in his play, Murder in the Cathedral. I have for years tangled with the voices of the women, the chorus. This then is poetic-posterity. These women of Canterbury are doom-sayers, they are the Greek chorus. They are ignored and later chided for their melodramatic utterances. They are however heard and regarded by the martyr Thomas À Becket. I have added a section of the recording here for those interested in how T.S Eliot used the women.

I find it quite difficult to relate to women characters that are written by men, as there is an absence somewhere that I regard as experiential. I think maybe that Anna Livia Plurabelle by James Joyce has a similar resonance to the Canterbury women written by Eliot. There is a quality of universalism in words mouthed by women, but written by men. The woman’s experience and perspective is absent, this hardly matters to a newspaper commissioning editor or poetry editor, as they believe that a male poet can voice a woman’s experience just as well as the woman could herself. And therein lies the problem: the established male writer in whom a lot of money has been invested is likely better than a woman writer at things because he has been put on a plinth by the old boys and there he will stay head-stuffing on all subjects for a bored media who hate the arts anyway. He can even aspire to the godly and they will lap it up and reward it.

Posterity seems to have increasing importance to those writers who have criticised Carol Ann Duffy in recent weeks. It took 341 years for the English people to countenance a woman laureate, then her laureateship is attacked by the guardians of poetic dogma, who not once sought to define (say) Ted Hughes’ Laureateship,

Conversely, Carol Ann Duffy’s work which speaks so clearly to many today may seem stale to posterity. I have no idea whether this would distress her.” (Allan Massie)

The idea of poetic posterity being defined by intellect is risible. The life of a poem is defined by the resonance of the image (or images) that are captured within the form of the poem. It is not a question of the perceived intellect of the poet, but of how the poem illuminates the reader. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaills images are fine hewn and unforgettable, as are Plath’s, as are the images created by Anna Akhmatova, by Margaret Fuller, by Stevie Smith, or by Ágnes Nemes Nagy. The fact that a certain coterie of critics are glued to the idea of posterity whilst mistranslating the idea of popularity (or populism) wholly misses the point of poetry. It is not about how wordy and intellectual the poet, but how the poetic image can adapt and move with the reader through their lifetime and be always different and always challenging.

Government appointed funders do not recognise the place of poetry in our post-literate society. Political artifice dominates popular media and culture. I have never been so bored with the empty drone and bitching of it. I have never understood why men in suits whose drone tone shows a spectacular boredom are mirrored by a craven and fussy media. Evidently boredom is de rigeur for the modern male. It’s a mystery to me why people glue themselves to televisions watching the latest bitchy power struggle or political scandal. Their words are dead wood and they reek of impotence to be frank about it.

I am adding here two excerpts of poems/prose which I will properly attribute next week. I want the reader to investigate the images and form therein,  and then possibly wonder at how stupidly gendered and egotistical the intellectual poets’ profound disconnect with their reader actually is become.

Poetry and Poetic Prose, two excerpts.

Excerpt #1.


Learn. The winter trees.
Hoarfrosted crown to root.
Immovable curtains.
And learn too of the zone
where a crystal steams
and trees merge into mists,
as the body in recollection of it.

Excerpt #2



 I came to a land where freedom had been realised or was at least believed to be very close to its full realisation. For the people here the word freedom could consequently not be applicable to themselves but only to other peoples who had not yet discovered the happiness-making formula that means the realisation of freedom. In this land,therefore, the people talked much and with a strong sympathy for all the people beyond the frontiers of their own land who were not free. It was said that one ought to exert oneself to  the uttermost in order to liberate all the lands and peoples of the earth. On the other hand, it would hardly have been the right thing if it had occurred to some compatriot to longingly, invoke, for example, the concept of freedom in an internal context to himself or any of his fellow-countrymen. To be sure, it was not forbidden by law to use the word freedom in that last-mentioned way, but a universally sanctioned convention in reality liquidated the word from any contexts other (than) external ones.

Since everything in this land was so new, so thrillingly and inspiringly new,  I became like a child, reborn, receptive and avid for knowledge, and also became involved in teaching in a school. By day and by hour I received proof which confirmed that freedom really was being realised  in this land as in no other. On the way to work, in buses, trams and underground trains the workers sat studying books which promised them the chance of experiencing freedom completely realised in their own lifetimes; a mother married to a simple sailor told me with eyes moist from emotion that there was every reason to expect that her son would attain the rank of admiral one day, and everywhere there was testimony to the fact  that here women were acknowledged as beings equal to men with all their human rights acknowledged; among other things the fact that within the military profession they possessed the rank of captain, major and even colonel.”

EDIT  18/02/2012:

Excerpt # 1 was Trees by Ágnes Nemes Nagy , from Between Dedalus Press (Dublin) and Corvina Press (Budapest) 1998. In translation by Hugh Maxton.

Excerpt # 2 is by Mirjam Tuominen , The short prose Travels , is from Theme with Variations, published in 1952.

Murder in the Cathedral , the women , http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxA_3qyN1lk 

T.S Eliot and the death of poetry ,  https://poethead.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/t-s-eliot-and-the-death-of-poetry/

Creative Commons Licence
Posterity and all that‘ by C Murray/Poethead is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at poethead.wordpress.com.

An evening of women’s literature at the Irish Writer’s Centre (06/01/2012)

The Irish Writer’s Centre,  last evening  06/01/2012,  hosted along with Dublin City Council a celebration of women’s poetry, music and literature to mark Oíche Nollaig Na mBan (Women’s Christmas). The event was presented by June Considine.

And what a night it was.

The event was bi-partite in structure, with readings by three poets and story-tellers to begin, a brief interval filled with music was quickly followed by three more readings by three more women writers. The first half was decidedly poetic, with readings in English and Irish by Celia de Fréine, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Eilis Ní Dhuibhne.

Celia De Fréine read In Relation to Each Other, Dearbhail , Celia Óg , and Ophelia. Dearbhail was indeed heart-breaking, the tale of the murder of Dearhbail by jealous women.

Eilis Ní Dhuibhne read two tales , The Man Who Had No Story and The Blind. 

Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill read from a few collections, Including from my favourite Pharaoh’s Daughter, with translations by Paul Muldoon,  Michael  Hartnett,  and Dr. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.  Poems read included , The Language, Dán do Melissa, and Closure.

Music flowed along with wine  as Jane Hughes on cello & Ellen Cranitch on flute played a selection from Carolan and Tchaikovsky, including the much giggled upon Fanny Power.

Interval over, the business of literature reared it’s head in the shape of Mary O Donnell ,who read from a WIP about Northern Ireland , alongside two  poems which were tremendous and indicate a wonderful talent in two quite distinct areas of writerly discipline.

Sarah Clancy charmed the crowd with her Argument Poems , which included Ringing in Sick  To Go Mermaid-Hunting,  Cinderella Backwards , and Riot Act. 

Mia Gallagher topped the evening off with some reading from her upcoming book.

This should not have been a unique evening in the calendar. There  are hints of more such evenings being planned, the audience was mixed  between the sexes and they were always interested. It was utterly charming, eclectic and beautifully balanced. I expect that people who wish more detail on the music and books can contact the Irish Writer’s Centre directly. Kudos to the board, volunteers and organisers for a great evening.

Pic by Stephanie Joy

‘Geasa’ le Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.

Má chuirim aon lámh ar an dtearmann beannaithe,
má thógaim droichead thar an abhainn,
gach a mbíonn tógtha isló ages na ceardaithe
bíonn sé leagtha ar maidin romham.
Tagann  aníos an abhainn istoíche bád
is bean ina seasamh  inti.
Tá coinneal ar lasadh ina súil is ina lámha.
Tá dhá mhaide rámha  aici.
Tairrigíonn sí amach paca cartaí,
‘An imréofá brieth?’  a deireann sí.
Imrímid is buann sí orm de shíor
is cuireann sí de cheist, de bhreith is de mhórualach orm
Gan an tarna béile a ithe in aon tigh,
ná an tarna oíche a chaitheamh faoi aon díon,
gan dhá shraic chodlata a dhéanamh ar aon leaba
go bhfaighead í.  Nuair a fhiafraím di cá mbíonn sí,
‘Dá mba siar é soir, ‘a deireann sí, ‘dá mba soir é sior.’
Imíonn sí léi agus splancacha tintrí léi
is fágtar ansan mé ar an bport.
Tá an dá choinneal fós ar lasadh le mo thaobh.
D’fhág sí na maidi rámha agam.

Geasa le Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill,  as Pharaoh’s Daughter.  Gallery Press. 1990. This poem is from Pharaoh’s Daughter by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, 1990, Gallery Press (Editor Peter Fallon). With thanks to Gallery Press for permission to reproduce here. I have added poet Medbh McGuckian‘s translation at link 

The Bond, by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, translated by Medbh McGuckian.