Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin was born in Cork City in 1942. She was a founder member of the literary journal Cyphers. She has won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Irish Times Award for Poetry, and the O’Shaughnessy Award of the Irish-American Cultural Institute. She is a Fellow and Professor of English at Trinity College, Dublin, and a member of Aosdána. She is married to Macdara Woods and they have a son, Niall.
These are potent poems, with dense, captivating sound and a certain magic that proves not only to be believable but necessary, in fact, to our understanding of the world around us.
This beguiling poet opens many doors onto multiple worlds. From the outset, with the startling imagery of ‘The Witch in the Wardrobe’ – a ‘fluent pantry’, where ‘the silk scarves came flying at her face like a car wash’ – we are in a shifting realm, both real and otherworldly. The effect of her impressionistic style is like watching a photograph as it develops. The Sun-fish contains approaches to family and political history, thwarted pilgrimages in which Ní Chuilleanáin poses many questions – not always directly – and often chooses to leave the questions themselves unresolved, allowing them to resonate meaningfully past the actual poem’s end. She is a truly imaginative poet, whose imagination is authoritative and transformative. She leads us into altered or emptied landscapes, such as that in ‘The Polio Epidemic,’ when children were kept indoors, but the poet escapes on a bicycle ‘I sliced through miles of air/free as a plague angel descending/On places buses went …’ Each poem is a world complete, and often they move between worlds, as in the beautiful ‘A Bridge between Two Counties.’ These are potent poems, with dense, captivating sound and a certain magic that proves not only to be believable but necessary, in fact, to our understanding of the world around us.
by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Although there is no paper yet, no ink
There is already the hand
That moves, needing to write
Words never shouted from balconies of rock
Into the concave hills
To one far away, whose hair
On a collarbone resembles
That break in the dunes, that tufted ridge
He must have passed, faring away.
If the railway does not exist yet, there is, even
Now, a nostril to recognize
The smells of fatigue and arrival,
An ear cocked for the slow beginning,
Deliberated, of movement, wheels rolling.
If the telephone has not been invented
By anyone, still the woman in the scratchy shirt,
Strapped to her bed, on a dark evening,
With rain beginning outside, is sending
Impulses that sound and stop and ask
Again and again for help, from the one
Who is far away, slowly
Beginning her day’s work,
Or, perhaps, from one already in his grave.
Copyright © Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin 2009