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Where's Katie?
June 2010


The Radio was Gospel

Elaine Feeney

ISBN: 978-1-908836-38-0

Page Count: 94

Publication Date: Friday, November 01, 2013

Cover Artwork: Ray Glasheen (artwork and design)

Click to play audio 'Bog Fairies' read by Elaine Feeney play
Click to play audio 'Mass' read by Elaine Feeney play
Click to play audio 'The Radio was Gospel' read by Elaine Feeney play

About this Book

"Elaine Feeney writes with an immediacy that cannot be ignored. Her words yield passion and compassion, dark humour, and fearlessness. Then sudden balm when you least expect it. She has set her own daring course, and follows it unflinchingly. She is steadfast, luminous and most of all true." Ellen Cranitch, RTE's Lyric Fm

"This poetry collection is poignant at times, at times hilarious, at times eloquent and at times downright naughty. Elaine Feeney is a leader through her words and cleverness, and a very important Irish voice for this generation."  James Falconer, A Portrait of the Artist

"Elaine Feeney is the freshest, most engaging and certainly the most provocative female poet to come out of Ireland in the last decade. Her poem " Mass", is both gloriously funny, bitter-sweet in the astuteness of it's observations and a brilliant, sly window into the Irish female Catholic experience. Her use of irony is delicious. " Mass" alone ought to be on the Leaving Cert curriculum. In fact you shouldn't pass unless you've read it! Her comments on the human condition, which run throughout her lines, are in the tradition of Dean Swift and she rightfully takes her place alongside Eavan Boland and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill as a very, very important Irish voice. I not only look forward to her new collection - I am pre-ordering twenty copies today."  Fionnuala Flanagan, California 2013


The Radio was Gospel is born in Athenry among the sights and the sounds, the quirks and the traditions. The poet examines her childhood curiosity. This very powerful collection of juxtaposition of the way things should be against the way things are visits Venice, San Francisco, Spain, Salthill, the Aran Islands, the local church but mostly finds magic and secrets in the Front Garden. The certainty in paddling pools, bog fairies, yellow rose trees, sherbet dips, mass, horses and the radio; that mechanical throat in the kitchen, the ultimate escape. Then the contrasting uncertainty; the angst and confusion of growing up. This collection at times displays savage wit and then such startling beauty. At times elegant, at times brutal, a very captivating young voice in Ireland; The Radio was Gospel marks a coming of age.


Author Biography

Elaine Feeney teaches English at St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam, County Galway. She is considered as part of a growing band of new young political Irish poets. She won the North Beach Nights Grand Slam and Cuirt Festival’s Grand Slam.  The Radio was Gospel is Elaine’s third collection, following Indiscipline (2007) and Where’s Katie? (Salmon, 2010). She has recorded an audio collection of her work with Sarah Clancy, Cinderella Backwards (2012). Her poetry has been broadcast on RTE radio and television. Elaine was the Over The Edge poetry Competition judge in 2011 and NUIG’s Sin Poetry Competition judge in 2013. She has performed at various literature and music festivals including the Cúirt International Literature Festival, The Ex-Border Festival in Italy, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Vilenica Festival and The Electric Picnic. Her work has been published in numerous magazines including The SHOp and The Stinging Fly. Her work has been translated into Italian, Slovene and Lithuanian. Elaine grew up in Athenry, Co. Galway, where she now lives with her husband Ray Glasheen and sons, Jack and Finn.


Read a sample from this book

Bog Fairies

The heather like pork belly cracked
underneath my feet –

The horizon like nougat, 
meltedits pastel line at the heat edge
blue fading to white light.

We stacked rows of little
houses for bog fairies –

wet mulchy sods
evaporating under our small palms.

Crucifixtions of dry brittle crosses
formed the skeleton –
my narrow ankles parallel to them.

Coarse and tough like the marrow of the soul,
like the skeltons crucified under the peat.

The turf will come good

my father said

when the wind blows to dry it.

We dragged ten-ten-twenty bags
with the sulphury waft of cat piss,
along a track dotted 
with deep black bogholes,
over a silver door, 
like  a snail’s oily trail 
leaving a map for the moon,
for bog fairies to dance on the mushy earth.

And behind the door once upon some time
old women sat in black shawls
bedding down Irregulars 
and putting kettles on to boil 
for labouring girls.

But I was gone.

I was dragging Comrades from the Somme
I was pulling Concords in line with Swedish giants
I was skating on the lake in Central Park
I was crouched in the green at Sam’s Cross
I was touring Rubber-Soul at Hollywood Bowl
I was marching on Washington with John Lewis

I was in the Chelsea Hotel with Robert Mapplethorpe,
he was squatting on my lap with his lens,
swearing to God to Janis Joplin I could find her a shift,

nothing is impossible when you blow like that girlfriend.

I sang Come As You Are in Aberdeen with union converse,
petrol blue eye liner and mouse holes in my Connemara jumper.

I was anyone but me
I was anywhere but here

We rushed to hurry before the summer light would fade
because animals needed to be washed and fed –

And turf needed to be stacked –

And all the code talk of our youth 
would be said behind our hands.

Because light was the ruler as it closed in around us,
like the dark on the workmen deep in the channel tunnel that night.

The black light killed the purple heather –

Yet I danced on the crackle in the dusk –

I crackled on the dust in the heather –

My dance on the heather turned to dust.


Mass

Mass will be said for no more bad language and gambling and wanking that the Athenry boys are doing, down the back of the castle, down the back of the couch, all the punching and hitting and groaning, moaning at the Turlough boys, the Clarinbridge boys, the boys from Killimordaly, down the back of the Presentation grounds.

There will be mass when you lose at the Galway Races
 and for the saving of your soul if you take the boat to Cheltenham.

There will be a mass for when the horse runs, and when the horse dies, and for the bookies who win and the punters who win,


and the bookies who lose and the punters who lose.

There will be mass for hare coursing and flask-filling.

There will be mass for your Inter Cert and your twenty-first, 
There will be a filling-out-your-CAO-form mass.

Mass will be held in the morning before the exams, mass will be held in the evening for your bath.

There’ll be a special mass on Saturday afternoon for your Granny. There will be a mass for your Granny’s boils and aches and black lungs and ulcers and spots and diabetes and psychosis.

There’ll be a mass for the anointing of the bollix of the bull above in the field near the closh over the railway bridge.

Mass will be held before the College’s Junior B Hurling Final, it will be held for the Connaught Cup Junior A Regional Final 
in wizardry and sarcasm.

Mass will be held on top of the reek for the arrogant and meek, and the bishop will arrive by eurocopter. There will be a mass to get him up in one piece and back in one piece.
Masses will be held in the outhouse.

Mass will be held for the safe arrival of new lambs and the birthing of ass foals.

Mass will be held in your uncle’s sitting room but his neighbours will be envious and later stage a finer mass.

There will be a mass to find you a husband, and a few masses to pray he stays.


There will be a good intentions mass. Your intentions if they’re good will come true. Mass will be held for your weddings and 
wakes and when you wake up.

Mass will be held for the Muslim conversion.


Mass will be held for George Bush.


Mass will be held for the war on terror.

Mass will be held for black babies and yellow babies and the yellowy black babies.

Mass will not be held for red babies. They have upset Pope John Paul.

Mass will be held for your brother when he gets the meningitis from picking his nose. Mass will be held for your cousins when they stop going to mass.

Mass will be held for the harvest and the sun and the moon and a frost and a snow
 and for a healthy spring and red autumn, for a good wind and no wind, and for a good shower and a dry spell, and for the silage and the hay and the grass and the turf.

There will be a saving-of-the-turf day. There will be a saving-of-the-hay day. There will be a saving-my-soul day.

There will a mass for the fishing fishermen.

There will be multiple masses for Mary around August when she did all the appearing.

There will be a good mass when the statue cries rusty tears. There will be a good mass and a great collection.

Mass will be held for the cloud people.


Mass will be held for apparitions and anniversaries and weddings and baptisms.

Mass will be held to church your sinned body after giving birth, there will be mass to wash your unclean feet.

Mass will be held for all your decisions so you don’t have to blame yourself.

There will be mass for the poor dead Clares.


There will be mass for the Black Protestants if Paisley allows it. Mass will be held for the De Valera’s and the Croke Park goers.

There will be a mass for the conversion of the Jews (and their collection).

There will be a mass for the communion class, there will be a mass for the no-name club non-drinkers. There will be a giving-up-smoking-the-Christian-way mass.

There will be a mass for the Christian Angels, only Christian ones.

There will be no mass for your freedom, but the air will be pea sweet and the sky will clear.

Mass will not be held for the souls of your gay sons.

Mass will not be held for song-and-dance makers, the apple cart topplers.

There will be no women’s mass.

There will be no mass solely by women for women. Your daughters will not hold mass.

There are strict rules for these masses.



The Radio Was Gospel
for Andrea

I had a Granny who used to tell me
with large fat sweaty hugs,
that I was her favourite,
she loved the long limbs of me.

But all of us were and none of us were
and children can smell that love and lies.

These are dangerous lessons.

Our mother’s lessons took 
longer to learn. 

Early in September
she walked us home,
small children by the hand, 
miles and miles and miles
taking a long road to Mountain North –
with its marshes and branches,
we thought she had gone mad.

I rushed and picked blackberries
before they would rust and shoved them deep to the cave 
of my tupperware beaker.

Her radio was gospel, the 
mechanical throat in our kitchen.

The farming-weather, 
the sea-weather, the promise –

knots and winds and waves

from Carnsore to Oranmore,
from Mizen and Malin.
Gay and Nell and all the
Mondays at Gaj’s females 
sat at our kitchen table 
and saved mothers
from multiple labours.

And while they’d still cook the dinner –
they’d educate their daughters.

And when I was pregnant 
and asked about labour,
she weeded out my flowerbeds, 
washed my windows,
changed the beds,
 
for that stretching could snap the red
cord around a small neck.

When I married she gave 
me jam-jar advice on sex.

Nothing is easy, as I am a mother 
balancing on a
fulcrum of rage and love,
and loss and ends.

A brittlehoneycombed foundation.
 
When I would die from brainclotfear,
 
she swore if I stroked,
she’d help me to sleep 
deep in Switzerland,
dressed in decent clothes.

My daughter is sick, 

she would say

but she will be ok,
she would say. 

And all the weeds 
choking the roses,
the endless sheets of polythene plastic,
covered over by fresh chipped 
bark in our front garden.

Now I sit on her bed 
and trace my finger over her books
and clothes and bits of ends, 
glass-jars, tissues, 
costume jewellery,  
photos of her grandkids. 

She’d love good rings, she tells me. 

But she has virtue 
in powerful proportion,

and diamond rings 
and emerald  things

come at some cost. 


We salted the guts from the blackberry fruits,
then made blackberry tarts.

And busy insects ran wild in the red red water.

These days together, 

are her chattels, 
they are her rings
and diamond things.

This is our love.

Copyright © Elaine Feeney 2013



Reviews

Review: The Radio was Gospel reviewed by Mary Ryan for The Tuam Herald (December 2013)


Athenry poet in the tradition of Dean Swift* 

Actor Fionnuala Flanagan has described Athenry woman Elaine Feeney as “the freshest, most engaging and certainly the most provocative female poet to come out of Ireland in the last decade.” She places her with Eavan Boland and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.

At the launch of her third poetry collection The Radio was Gospel in the salubrious Writers’ Centre, Dublin, last week, that description certainly rang true.

I asked Elaine why she is writing poetry. “I’m looking for an answer. Will we ever get it? I’m trying to witness the state of the place and tell the truth.”

She fretted that she might have spoken a little too much of the truth in some of her poems e.g. The Mass. She is worried about insulting her employers in St. Jarlath’s Secondary School, Tuam when she writes “There will be mass for your Inter Cert and your twenty-first, There will be a filling-out-your-CAO-form mass. There’ll be a mass for the anointing of the bollix of the bull above in the field near the closh over the railway bridge … Mass will not be held for red babies. They have upset Pope John-Paul … There will be no mass for your freedom, but the air will be pea sweet and the sky will clear. Mass will not be held for the souls of your gay sons … There will be no women’s mass. There will be no mass solely by women for women. Your daughters will not hold mass. There are very strict rules for the masses.”

Feeney is original and challenging. In citing the misogyny and homophobia of the Roman Catholic Church, she realises she may be sailing close to the wind. She told me she’s given a lot of thought to this but concluded that if she does not tell the truth as she sees it, then she had better not write poetry at all. So say all of us.

Novelists and playwrights hold a mirror up to our lives and describe what they see; poems respond to the great questions of life as Feeney has done. That’s their job and it is why they should be at the very heart of our society as the Fíle was in Celtic times. They help to explain us to ourselves. Goodness knows, we never needed it more than we do now.

Like Patrick Kavanagh, Feeney’s poems give voice to rural Ireland and make it universal. “ … A dark orange veil/ran wild in the wind, its anchor; a willowy stick of girl shadow. There are nuclear rumours somewhere/or another tonight; Iraq Russia Turloughmore Clarinbridge … I pray for the girleen/I pray for nuclear disarming/I pray for the lambing” (Goats and Lambs).

The title The Radio was Gospel catapulted me back to time spent in my Aunt Mary’s big country kitchen listening to programmes like What are they talking about? on Saturday evenings on Radio Éireann. Everybody listened as if they were at Sunday mass. The radio was “the mechanical throat in our kitchen.” The weather forecast came and you daren’t move a limb: “The farming weather, the sea forecast, the promise, knots and winds and waves/from Carnsore to Oranmore, from Mizen and Malin.”

Feeney shares intimate moments with us: “When I married she {meaning her mother}gave me jam-jar advice on sex. Nothing is easy, as I am a mother balancing on a fulcrum of rage and love, loss and end. A brittlehoneycombed foundation.”

She’s courageous with language as in for example,brittlehoneycombed’, big-black-banana-skinned bins, loveen, capeens, bad sessht to them, jusht terrible, arra shtop, shtop entirely, poor fuckereeens, cunteens, dandruffy-dead-hair. Her compound nouns and phonetic spellings remind me of Kavanagh and Joyce – true, courageous and original.

There are numerous other poems, lines, concepts and words worth exploring in Elaine Feeney’s poetry collection. It costs €12 and would make a great Kris Kindle, stocking-filler - if we’re still doing those - or a treat for yourself. You will not be disappointed in it.

Every library, including school libraries, should have a copy because as Fionnuala Flanagan says ‘“Mass alone ought to be on the Leaving Certificate curriculum. In fact, you shouldn’t pass unless you’ve read it!’
The Radio was Gospel was published by Salmon Poetry, Knockeven, Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare. The website is www.salmonpoetry.com.

* “Her comments on the human condition, which run throughout her lines, are in the tradition of Dean Swift” Fionnuala Flanagan.

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