“The writing has a kind of inward intensity” – A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa

IMG_2022-1-14-092146Two poets meet in this book, the author and her Eighteenth-Century antecedent, Eibhlin Dubh. The book is lyrical but with a physical reality, as she says at the start and at the end, “This is a female text.” So the story weaves around the themes of child rearing and the repetitions of household life, the ticked-off lists of daily chores, feeding the children, cleaning, and her imaginative connection with Eibhlin Dubh.

There is little sentimentality here. The difficult birth of a daughter is described painstakingly with medical precision. From her own aborted training as a dentist, she learns to dissect a body without losing her descriptive gifts to horror:

“Day by day, the cadaver changed. Every slice of mangled viscera, muscle, and cartilage we removed was tossed in a plastic bucket – a kind of tidying into a kind of bin – where they lay like jigsaw pieces, or fragments of a fallen vessel.”

The medical and domestic merge.

The writing has the kind of inward intensity that suffuses Irish writing from Joyce onwards. This is far from a mundane account of domesticity and motherhood as objects can swiftly change their identity:

“While she reminisces about her school days, I let my tired gaze drift to my teacup, how it curves like an ear, embellished with twist of blue. I think of the gesture a cup demands, the tilt towards a mouth, the flow. My eye translates the image on the cup and I flinch. How have I not noticed this? For years, I’ve been drinking from a cup of starlings.”

This is what Doireann Ni Ghriofa does so well, taking the habitual, the everyday and twisting it into a new idea or perspective. Her imagination is both auditory and visual, so we are place fully in her worlds and that of Eibhlin Dubh.

Any Cop?: It is a book that gathers you into its unsentimental warmth. It should endure for a long time, just like the poetry of the two word weavers.

Richard Clegg

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