Salmon Poetry have just launched a collection of the work of Belfast-born poet, Lorna Shaughnessy, a lecturer in Spanish at NUI Galway. She has published two interesting sets of contemporary Mexican poetry with Arlen House (2006) – Mother Tongue by Pura Lopez Colome, who translated Beckett and Seamus Heaney and If We Have Lost Our Oldest Tales by Maria Baranda, who has a Dylan Thomas inspired collection out in Mexico.
With that background, the poetry of Shaughnessy – Torching The Brown River – displays a travelled quality and a concern with and for language; what we say, how we say it and what we mean. She mostly chooses the fragmentary or oblique style, that we might blame Emily Dickenson for. A poem like Lost For Words, says a lot about her ideas of things held at arms length, a mother tongue that licks the wound.
Even memory has a sting like nettles, especially in Antigone, in memoriam Jean McConville, where McConville speaks through the poem:
My memory, buried alive
Scrapes at earth and stones
With nails that keep growing.
And further on, more of that shameful episode of Northern troubles that will now be glossed over in the name of Peace:
Alive and still unheeded,
Your requests always untimely
In the ears of important men.
Too young you learned
About the silence of the grave.
Loss seeps out of many of the poems in this collection. In Ambush you feel the brutality of occasional encounters – as they dressed hurriedly and walked away without touching. In, The Photographs They Never Took Of The Life They Almost Shared… a prose style, like some of Baranda’s work, you will recognise some of the snaps only your memory can unwind.
Further in Song of Expectancy there is the waiting for things that won’t happen but nothing prepared me for the oblique pain of Appointment With Mutilation about what, I presume, is breast cancer surgery, that touches on desire and accommodation and as she says – forsaking symmetry for survival.
Seek out Lorna Shaughnessy’s book and in her concluding words –
And dream of another life
Beyond the garden walls.
Who knows but someone might invite her to read at next year’s Sean Dunne Writers’ Festival…