12/2/2024 Katie Donovan

Poetry – A Salve in a Fractured World?

By Katie Donovan (Poet and writer)

Katie Donovan is a former features writer with the Irish Times and has a new book of poems coming out on the 24th May, called appropriately “May Swim”. Her previous poetry includes: Watermelon Man (1993), Entering the Mare (1997), Day of the Dead (2002), Rootling: New and Selected Poems (2010) Off Duty” (2016) All are published by Bloodaxe Books UK. She was also editor with Brendan Kennelly on Dublines (Bloodaxe, 1996) and Ireland’s Women: Writings Past & Present (Gill & Macmillan, 1994).
Addressing a world of divisions, evanescent joys, sudden shocks, and constant change, Katie spoke, amongst other things, on whether poetry may, or may not, lift the soul and how it acts as a lens upon both the satisfactions and vicissitudes of this modern life.
She gave a wonderful talk using copious brief quotes from both well known and lesser known poets. A winner of the O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry, Katie mixed drama, poignancy, happiness, sadness, darkness and light with a tender deftness that kept the audience enthralled. Using examples of poetry both Irish and international, past and present listed below, she spoke, as she put it, about the role of the poet and the function of poetry.
Katie concluded that no poet wishes his or her words to be used as simplistic slogans, but must at the same time be willing for readers to find their own understanding of what the poem means. Readers will find signals in poems that the poet may not have intended – comforting, intriguing or otherwise. The best poems are subtle, experimental and indirect, achieving their effect with irony, strong imagery and unexpected comparisons. Poems about sad topics such as loss and illness can be very welcome to a reader who is in despair and feels by reading the poem that his or her experience is recognised. The huge variety of poetry out there for readers ranges from poems about politics and family life, to poems about history and the natural world, reflecting the diversity of human experience in all its nuanced variety.
The list of poets and poems that Katie either read or quoted from were:
Bee” anonymous poem translated from the 8th century Irish by Patrick Crotty “Kilcash”, anonymous poem composed originally in Irish from 17th century. Transl. Frank O’Connor. “Lament for Art O Laoghaire”, 18th century poem/lament composed orally in Irish by Eibhlin Dubh Ní Chonaill, transl. Eilis Dillon. One of the “terrible sonnets” by Gerard Manley Hopkins: “No worst, there is none”. “Waiting for the Barbarians” by C. P. Cavafy, Greek/Egyptian poet (1904) transl. Edmund Keeley. “Requiem” by Russian/Ukrainian poet Anna Akhmatova. “Cromwell” by Brendan Kennelly. “On Lacking the Killer Instinct” by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. “Ceasefire” by Michael Longley. “The Pieta’s Over” by Paul Durcan. “Everything’s going to be Alright”, “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford” and “Antarctica” by Derek Mahon. “The 50 minute Mermaid” by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. “When All the Others were Away at Mass”, Sonnet 3, from “Clearances” by Seamus Heaney. “Starlings in Winter” by American poet Mary Oliver. “The Peace of Wild Things” by American poet Wendell Berry. “Her Harpy Eagle Claws” in “Mama Amazonica” (Bloodaxe Books) by Pascale Petit (French/Welsh poet living in the UK). “What Can I Give Him?” poem from Donovan’s own collection “Off Duty” (Bloodaxe Books). “May Swim”, poem from Donovan’s forthcoming collection “May Swim” (Bloodaxe). Other writers and poets mentioned: W. B. Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, Michael Hartnett, William Wordsworth, Dylan Thomas, Speranza (pen name of Lady Jane Wilde), Simon Armitage, Eavan Boland, Michael D. Higgins, Sylvia Plath.