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Massacre of the Birds / Mary O'Donnell

Massacre of the Birds

By: Mary O'Donnell

The range of poems in Massacre of the Birds moves from an encounter with water creatures in ‘Hanging House in a Canal’ to the appearance of a satyr in O’Donnell’s back garden in ‘Muse.’ Mythic nature abounds, but wake-up calls to social denial also appear in ‘#MeToo: 12 Remembered Scenes and a Line’ and ‘It Wasn’t a Woman.’ She speaks of the endangered biosphere, of losses incurred by forced migra...
ISBN 978-1-912561-28-5
Pub Date Friday, October 23, 2020
Page Count 92
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The range of poems in Massacre of the Birds moves from an encounter with water creatures in ‘Hanging House in a Canal’ to the appearance of a satyr in O’Donnell’s back garden in ‘Muse.’ Mythic nature abounds, but wake-up calls to social denial also appear in ‘#MeToo: 12 Remembered Scenes and a Line’ and ‘It Wasn’t a Woman.’ She speaks of the endangered biosphere, of losses incurred by forced migration, but also about the attritions of time in a mother-daughter relationship. A beautiful collection from one of our most accomplished poets.

“At last a proper creative response to our times. With the most gracious authority, Mary O’Donnell speaks truth into the storm of wounds mankind is causing to nature and the feminine. These poems ‘witness the grace of wing tilt and wind’, and map where we stand on the ‘lakeshore of conscience’ as nature’s ‘vanishing’ happens all around us. As the collection progresses Massacre of the Birds successfully charts the full spectrum of female experience. Here are the lyrical, sensuous spaces of our intimacies. And here too is a bold, political reckoning of the many painful injustices women have suffered for too long. O’Donnell’s work is a deeply satisfying fusion of poignancy and forthright power; her poems are both a healing for our ills, and a vital demand for action.”

“What I admire most about Mary O’Donnell’s poetry is the way she reaches beyond her formidable Irish roots to embrace, aesthetically and thematically, a global poetic that joins hands with Adrienne Rich, Federico García Lorca and Tomas Tranströmer. She blends the sensual with the mystical, the exotic with images from home. From finding the transcendent in something as simple as trying on a pair of sandals, to allowing imagination’s flight in ‘dancing to Cuban rhythms/ rum on my tongue,/a reek of skin, all body,/ burning up’—Mary O’Donnell takes us along with her on the journey of a life rooted in tradition, but too large to be contained.” 

“In her new book Mary O’Donnell demonstrates a thrilling preparedness to breach boundaries and interrogate the world from fresh angles. The voice is urgent, with poems that can be both passionately political and devastatingly personal in turn, whether it is exploring the experience of refugees with ‘a whole sea like a judgment on us’, a woman’s aging process or the writer’s complex relationship with the art of poetry. There’s anger with our casual plunder of the natural world and at our obliviousness to the suffering of those we seek to hide away. But there’s also joy, a capturing the numinous—what O’Donnell calls the ‘perfect stealth / of these moments’—when it offers itself in language that is precise, charged and hauntingly beautiful.”

“Mary O'Donnell writes with the vigour and tremulous excitement of youth, now enriched with the wisdom of the years. Her lyricism is laced with raw courage and rare sinew, her compass being both meticulously local yet still global in its vision. In this astonishing collection, amongst many other subjects, her pen ponders upon the unwitnessed death of an aged aunt, the fancy skirts of an unwashed lettuce, the slaughter at Bataclan, with equal ease and elegance. As a poet, Mary O'Donnell stands with Heaney and Boland, Kavanagh and Clarke: as a living writer, she stands alone.”

Mary O'Donnell

Mary O’Donnell is one of Ireland’s best known contemporary authors. Her seven poetry collections include Spiderwoman’s Third Avenue Rhapsody, Unlegendary Heroes, both with Salmon Poetry, and Those April Fevers (Ark Publications). Her poetry is available in Hungarian as Csodak földje with the publisher Irodalmí Jelen Könyvek. Fiction includes the novels The Light Makers (reissued in 2017 with 451 Editions), The Elysium Testament and Where They Lie. A volume of essays on her work, Giving Shape to the Moment: The Art of Mary O’Donnell, was published in 2018 (Peter Lang). Her third short story collection, Empire, was published by Arlen House in 2018. An essay, “My Mother in Drumlin Country”, published in New Hibernia Review during 2017, was listed among the Notable Essays and Literary Nonfiction of 2017 in Best American Essays (Mariner). She is a regular invited guest at literary festivals and events both in Ireland and internationally. An elected member of Aosdana, Ireland’s affiliation of artists, she lives in County Kildare.

My Mother Remembers her Irish

Like Alice, she has fallen down the rabbit hole.
In a room at the bottom, 

rejecting a bottle labelled DRINK ME, 
she reaches for the cracked urn of language: 

SPEAK ME, it invites. 
White hair in disarray, she unstops it.

The contents fizz up and over the lip of glaze
as she recovers the sounds she forgot

after schooling. Now, she has broken away 
from the language bunker, 

its torqued English, 
takes to speech at the midnight hour.

As if fighting the Jabberwocky,  
she uses old songs to push against a paralysis 

of chair-lifts, walking frames, 
they emerge on her tongue, ancient oratorio:

síolta; beidh aonach amárach; cad dúirt tú,
a chailín álainn? Ba mhaith liom dul abhaile. 

Such softness that rarely found its way in English, 
now honeys her tongue in the magical flight of dotage. 

Time, released, enriches conversation. 
“Did you know that this Republic was born 

70 years ago today? Years after the Maglioccos 
in the town taught me Mussolini’s anthem” 

We speak of Easter music, the St. Matthew Passion, 
her ceol cráifeach. She wonders 

if the sun will dance, Easter Sunday morning, 
on the hill above her house at Kilnadrain, 

where she wants to return sometime soon. 
 Mo thinteán féin, she adds. 

A Poem from Gotland
13th November 2015

It was a day of boredom and the words would not flow
Now evening, four degrees centigrade, dark, westerly winds
And the Baltic rushing whitely to the edge of the town
It will rain tonight, but I will not fly in my dreams
As the winds buffet this house,
And innocence has been murdered
While we rest here, our words unflowing
I cannot fly west, cannot help
Know nothing yet of the death of a colleague’s daughter
A 17-year-old who entered Le Bataclan 
On a false pass and was shot.
Still I know nothing of the blood and broken flesh
Le Carrion, Le Petit Cambouge,
La Belle Equippe, Stade de France,
Out there in the night the wind moves
Like a rampaging animal among winter’s birches
Finds no holding place
Except where it strikes the wall of this house.
I will survive the night as the young are murdered
As the killers shoot themselves
As hatred takes its stroll through Paris.
Tomorrow it’s hard to believe
That I can try to write again
Or any of us

Buenos Aires Autumn

The trees here are playing with fire,
but on my island, the cold sap rises.
All day in this heat my flesh

is a violin, the strings melt
and are songless. 
Something leaves me 

or arrives, I cannot be certain.
The Rio de la Plata 
sends mud-songs to the estuary,

intent on harmony with other rivers.
Eva Peron rests in La Recoleta,
where afternoon crowds leave posies 

wrapped in paper, green string.
In Puerto Madero, the air is smokey
from the steakhouses 

near the Puente de la Mujer,
the water of the Salado brown
with a sediment of base notes. 

In Ireland, the rivers chant one note, 
each minds its own sound-passage
to the sea, rises in wet spring-times

of fluted birch, nippled oak-buds
which will not soften until May.
In the south I feel the breath of a god 

about to close passageways of air. 
Sing on, some people say,
Be silent, say I, looking 

to cross the equator in a rush of clouds
to the drenched hill-woods 
and mire of my own fields. 

All Poems Copyright © Mary O'Donnell 2020
INTERVIEW: Enda Wyley interviews Mary O'Donnell for the Books for Breakfast podcast. 

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