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November 2007

Still Listening

Angela Patten

ISBN: 1 903392 19 5

Page Count: 54

Publication Date: Wednesday, November 30, -0001

Cover Artwork: Brenda Dermody

About this Book

The poems in Still Listening depend on memory and dreams as their inexhaustible source.  They describe a sense of living between two worlds - the romantic America of childhood and the folklore of the remembered Irish past. Angela Patten's poems illustrate the notion that making poetry is the process of making the familiar strange, of drawing attention to a wisdom and humour that is intrinsic to everyday Irish speech.  The poems in Still Listening come directly out of an oral tradition in which family troubles are turned into familiar stories that can be retold and relished again and again.  It is these stories and their peculiarly Irish turns of phrase that lend a characteristic music and texture to the poems. Patten has spent more than twenty years trying to reconcile the inhibiting influences of  the Irish Catholic church and her working-class roots with her affection for her Irish Catholic working-class family and the richness of her oral heritage.

Author Biography

Angela Patten is author of three poetry collections, In Praise of Usefulness, Wind Ridge Books of Vermont 2014, Reliquaries, Salmon Poetry (Ireland) 2007, and Still Listening  Salmon Poetry 1999. A prose memoir, High Tea at a Low Table: Stories from an Irish Childhood, was published by Wind Ridge Books of Vermont in 2013. Her work has appeared in several anthologies and in many literary journals such as Nimrod International Journal, Poetry Ireland, Calyx Journal, The Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, and Michigan Quarterly Review. Patten has received grants for poetry from the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Community Foundation. She has been Visiting Poet at Stranmillis University College-Queens in Belfast, N.I., The Frost Place in Franconia, N.H., and the Breadloaf Young Writers Conference in Ripton, VT.  Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she now lives in Burlington, Vermont, with her husband, poet Daniel Lusk, where she teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont. 

Read a sample from this book


Mother's swimming away from shore,
the blue water sparkling around her.
She turns, waves to us,
her right arm lifted in a blessing.

I cry out but the sea picks up my words,
hurls a shower of pebbles at my feet.
Straining forward, taut as a fishing-line,
I am willing her home for nothing
so conscious as love.
Only that without her nothing works.
The Little Sisters of the Poor look after us
but the nun's been up the chimney
and the doctor roars at us to be still.

I can't eat when she goes away.
Father hangs a pheasant from the backdoor knob.
I lift him down and lay him in my doll's pram
where his putty-coloured beak
lolls sideways over the blankets. I know that later
they'll throw his pretty feathers on the fire.

My mother's arms turn like a wheel over her head,
strong from beating batter with a wooden spoon,
cranking the clothes-wringer in the yard,
slashing crosses in the soda-bread.
Her arms backstroke her body out to sea.
I can see her white swim-cap bobbing like a buoy.
It's Mother's Day
she's rescuing herself this time.

© Copyright Angela Patten 1999


"'Still Listening' has time in two places and words working double. The "still" of the title means both quiet and continuance. Patten takes such word play seriously. She uses oral Irish wit to her written advantage, simultaneously entertaining her reader with a game of words and hearkening back to the island she left behind." 

Samantha Hunt, Seven Days
Burlington, VT, September 22, 1999

"Patten explores the disorientation of living an ocean away from her family of origin. The sounds of language in America, even though the words are English, are foreign. ....Like the tide, Patten goes back over and over, pulled in her poetry to keep touching the shore she left.... "Still Listening" is a double string of singing poems. It gives off a most pleasing sound, the kind that deepens with re-reading."

Francette Cerulli, The Times Argus
Vermont, February 18, 2000

"Born in Dublin, Patten emigrated to the United States in 1977 and now lives in Vermont, where she received degrees from both the University of Vermont and Vermont College. Her poems have been published in literary journals around the world and she currently teaches poetry. It is invariably the mark of a good storyteller that she or he is first a good listener: Patten is definitely such a poet, and her collection is aptly titled. Her ear records not only the verbatim sense of her speakers, but the patterns, inflections, and nuances of their speech as well. Her poems are, foremost, narrative works in the melodic Irish oral tradition, works meant to be listened to as well as read. They contain snippets of dialogue, unbidden memories both clear and fuzzy, elements of history, and, perhaps most importantly, family lore: those stories in a family's tradition that have moved beyond literal veracity to a more deeply rooted mythological truth, such as the story of how her father lost his left eye. As is the case with many Irish expatriates, Patten tries valiantly to reconcile the confining influences of her Catholic working-class upbringing with her fondness for its richness and familiarity. It is this tension which animates her work. "You can't breathe for choking on the past,'' she complains. Yet, moments later, she fondly relates a glimpse of her father kneeling at a kitchen chair, "the black beads running through his callused fingers like water over rocks.'' What a pleasure it is to pick up a volume that one can enjoy thoroughly, from the simple, evocative cover art to the last line of the final poem."

Kirkus Review
Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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