Dense yet taut poems, grounded in an everyday enriched by an intelligent, idiosyncratic awareness -- Carrie Etter
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About Vona Groarke
Vona Groarke is one of the leading Irish poets of her generation. Born in Mostrim, Ireland, she studied at Trinity College, Dublin and University College, Cork. She has held positions at Villanova and Wake Forest Universities in the USA, and she is currently Senior Lecturer in Poetry at the Centre for New Writing at Manchester University. In 2014, she was appointed editor of Poetry Ireland Review. She has been the recipient of many prizes and grants, including the Brendan Behan Memorial Prize for her first collection, Shale (1994), and the Michael Hartnett Award for Flight (2002), which was also shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection. The author of one translation, Lament of Art O’Leary (from the eighteenth century Irish classic of Eibhl’n Dubh N’ Chonaill), and six poetry collections, Groarke’s latest book, X, was published by Gallery Press in early 2014.
Groarke’s poems often move outwards from close, scrupulous attention to small objects, natural phenomena, and individual words. Her poem “Bodkin”, for example, available to listen to on the site, begins by identifying “bodkin” (which can be taken to refer to an arrowhead, one of the fourteen tribes of Galway, and a sewing needle) as “a word from a dream, or several, spiked on it / like old receipts”. From this starting point, Groarke teases out the sonic and semantic suggestiveness of the word, unfolding a dense and playful litany of imagined meanings from it, from the frivolous – “a bobbin spinning like a backroad drunken bumpkin” – to the politically charged – “a Balkan / fairy story, all broken bones poked inside out”. It demonstrates that the experiences offered by Groarke’s poems are often “something beginning with slightness / and possibly taken from there”, as she puts it in “The Verb ‘to herringbone’”. Her first book opened with a quotation from the American poet Elizabeth Bishop, and Groarke’s precise poems are, at times, Bishop-like in their reticence, mystery and power.
Her work often focuses on the difficulties of being an Irish poet abroad, obliquely interrogating questions of belonging, nationality and shared history. These questions are addressed in various forms, from meditations upon her distance from her family, as in “Away” (“I Skype and Skype / and no one answers”), to garrulous satirical pieces, such as “An American Jay”, which gives an account of “spinning channels between the election and Iraq” before switching to “an Anglophile mid-morning with the Kumars // or All Creatures Great and Small”. The caution and care of her poems overlay a complex and witty engagement with historical and political contexts, as demonstrated by works like “Imperial Measure” and “To Smithereens”.
This recording demonstrates the distinctiveness and subtlety of Groarke’s music. It shows how central the cadences of spoken language are to all of her work, and reinforce the impression the poems create on the page: that each piece is an intimate communication with its reader. In their generous spareness, they present us all with the gift Groarke offers up to her daughter in “Going Out”: “a new arrangement by, and for, you.”