Monday, June 29, 2015

STEEP TEA: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

The poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (1942 - ) is populated by religious and folkloric motifs and so it reads like a world outside, beyond, beside, the ordinary world. This alternative world could be seen as a critique of the common world, but it is also vital in its own right. Her poem "St Mary Magdalene Preaching in Marseilles" inspired me to depict a Hell's Kitchen panhandler as St. Thomas the Skeptic. Her ekphrastic poem "Fireman's Lift," with its Virgin Mary spiraling upwards, reminded me of the beautiful old-fashioned lift in Singapore's St. Andrew's Children's Hospital, where my mother used to wash laundry.

I am most pleased, however, with my poem "In His Other House," which borrows inspiration and title from her poem "In Her Other House." Taking for the epigraph these wonderful lines: "In this house there is no need to wait for the verdict of history And each page is open to the version of every other" I describe my own alternative world, in which Singapore bookstores shelve not only books on the stock market, self-improvement and the supernatural, but also works of poetry; my father reads to me, my dead grandfather approves of my father; and my beloved does the dishes.

From Poetry International: "Ní Chuilleanáin was born in Cork in 1942, educated there and at Oxford before spending all her working life up to the present as an academic in Trinity College Dublin. Ní Chuilleanáin’s first book Acts and Monuments was published in 1972 and her work has been much admired ever since, resulting in her being described variously as one of Ireland’s best poets and Ireland’s best woman poet.

... Ní Chuilleanáin comes from a family of writers and musicians. Her father, a famous academic and combatant in the Irish War of Independence, her mother, a classic children’s author. She said she became a poet because her mother wrote prose and because she thought poetry was more difficult."

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