Women poets’ fine collections have just one thing in common

WHAT is it about women writers and cats? 

Ghost of the Fisher Cat
Afric McGlinchey
Salmon Poetry, €12
The Windows of Graceland
Martina Evans
Carcanet, £12.99

WHAT is it about women writers and cats? While Shakespeare always wrote about cats negatively and mostly used them as metaphorical tools to express women’s opinions and their nature, poet, Afric McGlinchey, in her second collection, uses the motif of a cat in strikingly imaginative ways that almost give the feline world heroic status.

There isadmiration for cats and their quick silver movements and ability to inhabit different worlds.

The title poem grabs the reader with an invitation to describe “the topography of the imagination”.

Starting with a fish, McGlinchey exhorts her audience to observe it “glinting in the rain/silver as a metal grid”.

Further down the poem, the ghost of a cat is introduced, an animal carrying the ‘trophy’ of a fish.

But the cat doesn’t hang about, sinuously springing “back into the shadows”.

McGlinchey is inspired by the Parisian urban myth of a black cat and its apothecary owner which is explained in the notes section of her book.

While this myth, with its suggestion of witchcraft, is spooky, McGlinchey has fun with cats in ‘A River of Familiars’.

Her opening line: “I have a cat that sharpens her scent on men” draws the reader in and what follows are punchy descriptions of cats including one from a past life that “knew the taste of golden whiskey.”

These cats are creatures that wear masks to indicate their varying nature and sometimes, their elusiveness.

With a keen eye for detail and an ability to write about the ghostly and the hallucinatory, McGlinchey is a poet that can traverse several worlds, just like her mysterious cats.

In her lively and quite brilliant poem, ‘Shakespeare Knew Cats,’ Martina Evans writes of the Bard as being “...not complimentary, no doting/Facebook snapper, a man of his time when/it comes to the feline...”

She references Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet, as ‘the Prince of Cats’ and is amusing but also ominous with mention of Aids and feline flu.

The teeth of the amorous cat in the poem carry poison.

The story will be played out “on the hormones” and as the narrator concludes, the outcome will involve “..dealing with the bitterest gall, the veterinary bill/broken bones/.”

While the occasional cat strays into her poetry, Evans’s canvas stretches far and wide.

Her collection gathers the best of her five previous collections of poetry as well as a selection of new and unpublished work.

Evans started her writing career as a novelist and that background seeps through in some of her prose poems.

Some of her preoccupations are autobiographical; a 1960s Catholic upbringing in rural Co Cork and memories of growing up over a pub.

She also writes about Ireland’s violent past.

And she writes about her musical hero, Elvis Presley.

In an arresting autobiographical poem, ‘My Persephone,’ Evans writes about being in labour with her only child in London.

Nobody is taking her seriously, despite the fact that she is ten days late.

The poet is sardonic about the father of the child.

“Now it was 3pm on the day. I’d been in labour since 2am/but he’d wanted to have lunch with his cousin (and drinks)/. Go, I said. Who wants a man who wants to be elsewhere/?”

Evans has the ability to write about Irish politics in a way that is rooted in personal memories, so that the writing is never turgid.

‘Fine Gael Form a Coalition Government with Labour, March 1973,’ may be an off-putting title, but there is joy to be had in school because “...the old whiskey/ Master and the young pastel-lipped teacher/” who were never close, have in common a love of Fine Gael.


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