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Falling in love with broken things / Alvy Carragher

Falling in love with broken things

By: Alvy Carragher

Falling in love with broken things can be described as a coming-of-age narrative or Bildungsroman. Alive with crisp images, the poems range from childhood memories of freedom and enchantment to the uncertainties of adolescence and young adulthood. Unflinchingly, they look at early experiences of loss, at complex and ambivalent family relationships and the mysteries of love and heartbreak. Moving outward geographically from t...
ISBN 978-1-910669-43-3
Pub Date Monday, June 13, 2016
Cover Image Cover Illustration: Lucy Carragher. Cover design: Siobhan Hutson
Page Count 74
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Falling in love with broken things can be described as a coming-of-age narrative or Bildungsroman. Alive with crisp images, the poems range from childhood memories of freedom and enchantment to the uncertainties of adolescence and young adulthood. Unflinchingly, they look at early experiences of loss, at complex and ambivalent family relationships and the mysteries of love and heartbreak. Moving outward geographically from the nucleus of family, countryside and school, to university years and further to a wider world beyond Ireland, the poems’ courageous and attractive honesty and emotional depth are achieved through the poet’s control of poetic techniques and language, and her unique blending of traditional forms and “spoken word” styles. Alvy Carragher is a skilful and sensitive poet who, astonishing in someone so young, possesses a high degree of psychological insight and tact, and her portrayal of the emotional undercurrents between people is at the same time forceful and subtle. It is a first collection that will resonate with and delight readers, a book they won’t want to put down until they have finished it in one sitting.  


Alvy Carragher

Alvy Carragher is an Irish poet and writer based in Toronto. She has published two books. Her first collection of poetry Falling in love with broken things was published in 2016 by Salmon Poetry and her children’s novel The Cantankerous Molly Darling was published in 2019.  She received first-class honours in her MA of Writing from the National University of Ireland, Galway. As a performance poet, she featured at events like Electric Picnic, Edinburgh Fringe Fest, RTE’s Arena and the Cúirt International Literary Festival. She represented Poetry Ireland at a reading in the Lincoln Center, New York as part of the Poetry Ireland Introduction Series in 2016. You can find out more about her work at

Te amo/ Je t’aime/ I love you

smell the beeswax on the dinner table, sister,
muffled quiet, tick of clock hands,
cough out words, try to say the missing thing,
rub the scab on your forehead, your protective moon 
hardened around silences you still can’t translate,
even now you’re grown, a woman
the girl in you hates the ways of the woman
you should have figured it out by now, sister,
sound of knife scratch on plate, you cannot translate,
the secrets of foreign words in your hands,
tongue whispering French under a Spanish moon
and vodka makes words sound like the right thing
scribble your name in the sand, photograph things,
post them online, convince yourself of this woman,
eyes caught sad, smile as big as the moon,
who are you looking at with all that regret, tell me sister,
the next snapshot shows you making gang symbol hands,
thug life and a grin cracked open, for us to translate
haven’t seen you in months, easier to translate,
the odd email, filling my inbox with thing after thing,
you theme another party to stop the shake in your hands,
phone to say you feel like the hollow of a woman,
meaning beeswax and childhood, meaning dinner table, sister,
come home, let’s yell profanities at the moon
you’re a shitbag, fuckwit, calloused old moon, 
a sentence anyone can translate, 
meaning fuck you moon, you won’t eat me alive, sister,
not if you shout back, punch the thing,
rise up against it, I’m asking you, woman, 
stop making it worse with the click of your hands
counting Facebook likes, till there’s love in your hands,
at night, awake under the bitch of your moon,
it shapes you, makes you this woman,
who says amor and amour as if you can translate
them into words that you understand, the right thing
is to find love in our language, sister
you woman, have amor scratched into your hands,
you, sister, are amour in the light of our childhood’s moon,
translating love, yes, love, to find the missing thing

Canal bank moon walk
I want the sky to be monumental, but it won't cooperate,
better to think about the moon, to stalk the walk of moon talk,
once, you pointed to its round orb, said it's a mystery for lovers,
I laughed, but you never meant to be funny
I don't dance like Michael Jackson or know like Kavanagh,
Who would have understood the way you spoke, 
always filling each syllable with meaning, 
you saw the magnitude in each blade of grass,
those clumps of green hulking with metaphors
I sit on the bench, where you said goodbye,
the place where you first told me your sadness,
we watched a furled swan unravel as if to crack our skulls,
you said something about beauty or transience,
I saw only its hard beak, capable of bone break,
back then, I must have been scared of everything, 
fear of swans, mostly, and dying without saying anything
as for the canal, in all its borrowed romance, 
you pointed at our trapped reflection,
said we're stuck in a moment of time, 
and I cursed your brain magic,
I felt nothing, no shimmer, just a watery fish-grave 
full of coke cans and slouched condoms
after you left, I started to see others – 
doctors, bankers, anyone without a thought for the canal,
I keep their kisses, they don't make me feel insignificant, 
they don't know about moonwalking canal banks, 
or how you gave me night-time flutters,
they see the dead water that I see, 
their scarves are thick and braced for winter, 
they all have warm skin, not like,  
your cold hand pointing at the moon


a mouldy old house party, crushed into the dustbin, 
as he kissed me, the smell of a dead fish
and I was thinking, this is not ideal, not ideal,
kept glancing over his kisses at a girl in the corner
passed out from space cakes and a dog with cross-eyes
I could have sworn was trying to save me

in the cold room, just upstairs, my hands shivering
in the new moon of a fresh year,
thinking this is not what I resolved,
the burn of whiskey between us 
trying to mean something,
and I was thinking, this is not romantic, not romantic,
his hands snatching at me in darkness,
the black of spiders crawling behind my eyelids,
the scrawl of his body pushing me backwards,
and I was thinking, not here, not here

but he didn’t know what no means,
didn’t know that it was a barrier I was setting up between us,
that it was a wish not to wake four times from my dreams
to his hands and all their nightmares

no meant that it hurt to be drowned in desire,
no was the white of my mind as I shut down 
and off until it was all just silence,
’til it was all just movements,
no was my eyes fixed on a ceiling crack
as he moved above me,
hoping it would splinter outwards
and let the stars through

no is a word I’ve had misunderstood before
by a long term boyfriend
after we first split, 
he whispered to me in the 
back room of my mother’s house
the same thing,
the step too far,
the kind of guy that doesn’t know
what no means 
afterwards, saying we’ll get married,
my heart screaming no, no, no
my heart saying, baby, 
you don’t know what you’ve done

I thought it was my fault, 
blamed my short skirt,
or my big eyes,
how they were asking for it 
under all that mascara

I’ve heard this same story too many times
most days it’s not even mine,
these skeletons of men 
that don’t know what no means,
we tell each other stories about one night stands
that don’t sound like one night stands, laugh-hollow
at things we don’t understand, not realising that
the way you said no, it meant something,
even if he never heard you
this is not our fault
no short skirt, or lingerie, or red lipstick 
can speak for you

because no means no
and what about the wedge of another word,
beneath your tongue
not sure you should say it, 
because it belongs with strangers faces,
and dark alleys and spiked drinks, 
rape is a whisper from another girl 
a kind of helpless stranger

I kissed both those men goodbye
because I wanted it to be more
than a headache of memory,
more than a dead thing sitting on my chest,
more than the thought of them 
criss-crossed and dead-eyed above me,
how it happens again and again and again
more than a girl whose been fucked-over and under, 
until she can’t remember if she said no,
can’t remember if she meant it

All poems copyright © Alvy Carragher 2016

Review:  Eleanor Hooker reviews "Falling in love with broken things" for The Stinging Fly (17th May, 2017)

'Beauty in Broken Things"
A Review by Eleanor Hooker

Some years ago I read about a poet who, having not seen a friend and fellow poet for some time, attended his reading. Along with other members of the audience she was moved and distressed to hear of his wife’s illness and his difficulties dealing with that while looking after their two young children. Following the reading she went to talk to her friend and offer support, only to be told that his wife was perfectly well, and that the poems were persona poems, dramatic poetic fiction. She writes that she felt aggrieved and deceived, as along with the people around her, the poems had elicited powerful emotions of empathy and concern.

Perhaps this is because readers/listeners assume that the pronoun I or even You refers to autobiographical detail in poetry. The converse appears to be true in fiction. Persona poems have their function: they serve to subvert the prejudices of their reader, to undermine received narratives, to pick at notions of truthful decorum in poetry and essentially, to imagine inhabiting the sights and sounds of other. Many persona poems are identified as such by their content and context.

In his essay, ‘Lying for the Sake of Making Poems’, Ted Kooser believes a poet should signal a poem as a persona poem, certainly at a reading – he considers this an ethical issue and one of trust between poet and reader. In his essay he interrogates the ‘extraliterary credit and sympathy for the lie’ which occur when the poet allows their poems to be understood as autobiography when they are not.

The two collections under review are by poets who write about illness, mortality and severe trauma in raw and uncompromising poems. Alvy Carragher especially has been publicly vilified for telling the truth in her poetry. Truth in poetry is like light refracted through water – if one places a straw at a slant in a glass of water, light changes as it passes from one medium to the other, reality (truth) does not change, the straw remains the same, but the bend of light as it passes from air to water distorts our perception of the image of the straw; it appears broken. So it is with truth in poetry.

In an Irish Times article from June 2016, Carragher tells movingly of how as a child, she found her mother’s poems folded into the backs of books. These poems, she says, were ‘never published, never read by anyone but her nosey child, and it was clear to me that this was the only way you could tell the truth’. In the concluding lines of one of his poems Graham Allen hopes that the lights/ahead are no mirage – mirage is another form of light refraction, one that produces an optical phenomenon from a true, recordable perception of absence.

Falling in love with broken things (2016, Salmon Poetry) Alvy Carragher’s warmly anticipated debut collection, became a major talking point in October 2016 when the poet became the target of online trolls for a particular poem in her collection. The poem, ‘Numb’ is an unflinching account of Carragher’s rape when she was twenty-four. Irish national newspapers and The Guardian in the UK carried articles about the online reaction to the poem, and Carragher’s able riposte to the trolls. No poet should be defined by the content of a single poem or by the potentially destructive attention it received from agitators.

Carragher is known as a performance poet and her spoken delivery of her work is a tour de force, but it also carries to the page with equal vigour. ‘Numb’ is a chant between the dissociation of mind and a body under attack, and whose refrain is no. The pace is relentless, and with infrequent punctuation, the stress falls each time on the word no.

because no means no
and what about the wedge of another word,
beneath your tongue
not sure you should say it,
because it belongs with strangers faces,
and dark alleys and spiked drinks,
rape is a whisper from another girl

Carragher’s poem ‘Confession’, with resonance of Frank O’Connor’s ‘First Confession’, reveals itself reluctantly through the observations of a pensive, watchful child, through to its devastating conclusion:

the off-kilter crooning of my mother
as she sang eighties music to the oven […]

before the softness broke and the silence fell,
we sat tight fists at the dinner table, waiting
for his words, hoping they landed on someone else

‘Mother’ is a deeply compassionate poem, in which Carragher communicates the complex nature of mother/daughter relationships, the desperate sadness in things left unsaid, and the realisation that love is an act of forgiving oneself and of letting go. This theme recurs throughout the collection. Carragher writes that mother:

taught us that nothing is funny
unless everyone is laughing

the nights you blew ice from your fingertips 
so I could chase my dreams,
drove me to the corners of forgotten fields
so I could prove my footsteps matter too

In Falling in love with broken things, Carragher captures a life from infancy to womanhood, insisting on the healing power of love. She listens intently and is intuitive to sorrow and quietness in others. As we gather a picture of a woman struggling to cope, Carragher’s series of poems for her mother are particularly moving. In ‘What she planted’, an apparently carefree childhood is worried by parental discord.

when the silence settled
we always found her 
in that place by the trellis,
bent low, pulling weeds,
humming tunelessly
to herself

Even on ‘Christmas morning’ Carragher senses the unhappiness of her mother and offers silent support

I dragged a battered chair across the floor to stand beside you
and in the shiver of the morning took in your sadness

There are many poems about heartbreak and young love in Falling in love with broken things. In ‘On letting things go’ Carragher lists the wise counsel from her Grandmother on dealing with that anguish.

looking over your shoulder will not help you move backwards
you will only end up stumbling blind into love’s next hurdle

In poems for her sister, Carragher loves, admonishes, colludes, is nostalgic but never sentimental. ‘We never said goodbye’ fills two pages and has no full stops, a metaphor, perhaps, for lack of closure. The concluding verse is utterly heartrending.

we’ll go back to the boreen
so you can walk that road again,
you’ll wear your black coat
and there’ll be dog hairs clinging on,
the blackberries will look a little different,
heavier now, from another type of rain

The poems in Falling in love with broken things work through sorrow and hurt to Carragher’s concluding poem ‘After the film’ and an affirmation of love.

I’ll think there’s love in it,
love, always,
at the bottom of everything

Of completely different sensibilities and writing entirely different poems, both Allen and Carragher make art that transcends the particular to find and describe truth and beauty in apparently broken things.

Eleanor Hooker’s second collection of poems 'A Tug of Blue' (Dedalus Press) was published in October 2016. She holds an MPhil (Distinction) in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. She is a winner of the UK Poetry Society Members' Competition, Spring 2017. A filmpoem, by George Hooker, from her poem 'Insight', has been selected by the jury of the Straight8 competition for screening in London, June 2017.

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