Book review: Clasp

THE story of how Doireann Ní Ghríofa started writing poetry six years ago is bizarre but also somewhat fitting for this warm, dreamy and gentle writer who was awarded the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary 2014-2015 by Ireland Professor of Poetry, Paula Meehan.

Book review: Clasp

Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Dedalus Press, €11.50

Interview: Colette Sheridan

Aged 34 and a mother to three young boys with a fourth child due in July, this Cork-based County Clare-reared poet was unable to sit at her grandfather’s death bed when the call came from a Dublin hospital in the middle of the night.

Ní Ghríofa had to make the difficult decision to stay at home to mind her first born baby who was just six months at the time. Close to her grandfather, Ní Ghríofa says that while he lay dying, she was lying down trying to get the baby to sleep.

“Completely unexpectedly, a poem came to me in Irish,” says Ní Ghríofa, who was educated in the gaelscoil system and graduated in applied psychology from UCC followed by a diploma in primary school teaching.

“I had never done any creative writing. But this poem kept repeating itself in my head. It felt so weird. I scribbled it down. It rhymed. It was all about walking on a beach on Clare Island, a place I’ve never been to. Even though I wouldn’t necessarily be a religious person or very spiritual, it was kind of hard to ignore this poem.

"I had a sense of it as being like a gift from my grandfather. It felt like he was going and this unexpected thing landed in my lap. Later, after he passed away, the family discovered that my grandfather had done some writing. He had written a play that had never been produced.”

Ever since that night, Ní Ghríofa has been writing. Up until the publication of Clasp, she has written in Irish, publishing two collections. Keen to attract a wider audience, Ní Ghriofa found it difficult to translate her poems into English.

“The language felt stilted. It wasn’t faithful to the Irish. But then, some poems started to come to me in English and the poetic impulse to write in English was sparked.” Ní Ghríofa’s influences include Meehan, Eavan Boland and Irish language poet, Biddy Jenkinson.

Ní Ghríofa’s writing is described by Meehan as being informed “by a deep intelligence ... and a generosity of spirit and openheartedness ... ”

Her subject matter is influenced by the joys and frustrations of motherhood. She also writes about absences including a poem about a miscarriage which concludes with the stanza:

“I carry you in my body

little skeleton, little skull

somebody — nobody — a

tangled knot, undone.”

But not all Ní Ghríofa’s poetry is pre-occupied with motherhood and the domestic. She can zone in on different cohorts including a bunch of wild young women on a night out in her sequence ‘Seven Views of Cork City’.

After describing the women knocking back shots of Jager and taking pills and coke “in the jacks”, she writes of them succumbing to “an ancient hunger”.

This involves “staring up at bright menus, thinking only of chips, chips, chips, and we’re sitting barefoot on the path outside Lennox’s/heels cast aside, potato steam rising from folded paper/like a long forgotten prayer and our mouths all holy Os of awe/and we’re watching our hot breath/float into the city night and wondering where it will go/and wondering where we will go.”

Ní Ghríofa isn’t sure where she will go with her writing. Her first short story will be published in the next issue of the Munster Literature’s journal, Southword.

“I don’t know where fiction will take me. It uses a very different muscle of my mind compared to poetry,” says this writer, bequeathed with a precious gift.

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