A Paid-up Member of the Living Poets Society!

If truth be told, I’m not a poet. All them odes to Daffodils and sonnets in fourth and fifth year at school put me off. I didn’t like Heaney’s “Digging” – maybe it was too familiar. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t do it for me. I know I could be excommunicated from the Irish literary community for admitting that. Though maybe I can save myself if I quickly add that I did like Yeats a wee bit, that something about ‘the bee-loud glade’ spoke to me and made me also want to ‘arise and go now…’

No, I was never really into poetry. I consider myself a storyteller, not a contemplator, and for me, poetry is too… Well, ya have to be really good at poetry to get away with telling a story. Come to think of it, I did like Pam Ayres when I was young. And I often imagine myself ‘stopping by woods on a snowy evening’ and hearing harness bells shaking so perhaps Robert Frost wasn’t so bad either. Maybe there was hope for this Poetic Philistine!

I sidle into appreciating poetry when I hear humorous poetry – like the kind of wry observations of life served up by David Braziel, and the craic dished out by Trish Bennet, and the belly laughs that Malachi Kelly can deliver at his Open Mic Night (Oh how I long to be squished into the Abbey Lane Theatre, drinking white wine and snacking nibbles as I listen to the acts.)

In fairness, the stuff that makes me cry appeals too, like the reminiscing of a passed parent gently told by Karen Mooney or the heartbreaking lens on the dark moments in life provided by Cathy Carson.

All told, I suppose I was on the slippery slope, but Gaynor Kane’s poetry cemented the deal. This time last year, Hedgehog Press published her book Memory Forest, and I enjoyed reading all the ways we can celebrate life and death. For me (and remember I’m not an expert and often pick up the poetry message wrong) this book was a kaleidoscope of the ways our days can trundle to a halt. It makes me think about life much more carefully, about living it much more vigorously, which is a shame because… cue 2020 and lockdown!

But Gaynor Kane has more poetry love to give in her new book “Venus in Pink Marble”. I began reading this with the intention that I’d commit to reading one poem a day. Full disclosure here – She’s my friend, I love her, and I felt I owed it to her to read her book because she reads mine and is so supportive of my writing. I can admit that I began reading poetry out of loyalty…to begin with…

But then her words caught hold and wouldn’t let go…

Like a newly lit fire, the flames licked urgently through dry kindling…

One poem a day, over breakfast, became two, three, four a day until I had to take myself in hand and go back to savouring the poems individually again. I wanted to think about each one all day and really let it sink in. In the first section, each poem was a snippet of history punching home a satisfying “a-ha” moment. There were so many that struck me, like the one with the rat causing a blackout in Belfast that makes me want to write a short screenplay about it.

Section Two – entitled ‘A Letter to Me” was particularly emotive. The poems often left me probing inward to identify what I was feeling. The language, precise yet spectacularly descriptive, drew an awareness from me as if it were a yoga for the mind. I challenge anyone to read Recipe For the Scent of You without feeling a prickle of nostalgic tears for the memory of a lost elder.

In section Three, there were poems like Herd that transported me back in time to when we had our own lawn invasions of ‘sauntering’ cattle – how else do cattle walk? And it’s this eye for detail that I love about Gaynor’s poetry, this knack she has of hanging words on something to snap it to attention in my mind’s eye.

The very next poem, I Am Not Prepared, I brought me back to when I was training for the Alcatraz swim, gifting me with a flood of wonderful memories of how fun that was, giving me a mental visit with the friends I shared that fun with.

Through Gaynor Kane’s poetry, the scales fell from my eyes. This poetry is powerful stuff all right!

Reading “Venus in Pink Marble” brings me a sense of tenure as a writer. I’m still more of a storyteller than a contemplator, but my writing is richer for reading Gaynor Kane’s poetry in the same way that my life is richer with her friendship.

And it doesn’t end there. Gaynor Kane has teamed up with Karen Mooney and released a pamphlet of their poems written during lockdown called ‘Penned In’ which walks us through the emotions carried by many in during the pandemic. This clever title is turned on its head as you read poems that give us permission to set our hearts and minds free to experience and feel what we need to with abandon.

All proceeds from the cracking wee collection that is ‘Penned In’ goes to Action Cancer. So I would say, give it a go, you’ve nothing to lose.

Byddi Lee