‘Unsettling, mythic and surreal’: new poetry collection from Eleanor
Strange, other worldly and wonderful characters crop up in the poems that feature in the latest book by Dromineer poet Eleanor Hooker.
'Of Ochre and Ash' is the third collection from Dedalus Press of the works of the award winning poet that will be in bookshops from October 8.
The poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin writes that the collection is full of "urgent, haunted poems", but that's hardly surprising as Eleanor and the rest of us have spent the last eighteen months having our worlds turned upside down by a pandemic.
In one poem, 'All My Imperfections', while on a walk in a wood, a stone is placed in her mouth by a Cailleach she encounters "who cackles when I object".
The meeting with this old witch, says Eleanor, is a metaphor for facing up to what all of us have had to face since the arrival of Covid-19.
"I think during the pandemic we all got to come face-to-face in the mirror with who we are and our own mortality," she says.
The Scottish poet John Glenday writes that the world Eleanor describes in her latest collection is "by turns unsettling, mythic and surreal, but ultimately so exquisite and affirming that it can only be our own."
The poet's maternal grandmother, who, like Eleanor, hails from just outside Tipperary Town, features in a number of poems.
'Through the Ears of a Fish' recalls her grandmother comparing her face to that of a fish and refusing to look in the mirror as she struggled with entering old age.
"All my life I just adored her," says Eleanor. "I would sit in her room chatting to her and she would never look in the mirror. She would say 'that hag'. I knew she was talking about her reflection in the mirror, which shocked her because inside she still felt like a young woman. So the poem is about saying 'you're strong, you're capable, and don't worry - just forge ahead.'"
Another poem, 'One less thing to worry about', was inspired by her grandmother's love of prunes. "When I was a child I used think 'what are those things that sat on granny's yellow saucer in the scullery?' I hated her prunes because they looked like slugs and I was always expecting them to move. And to think granny was eating them - I used to think it was disgusting.
"But the poem is about honouring and remembering the things she said to me. She was a phenomenal woman, standing five foot nothing, but she was full of fire in her belly and a real feminist at a time when I'd say it was hard to be a feminist in Ireland."
Tuning in to human intuition inspired the short poem "Memento Mori", where granny crops up again long after her death, her voice still speaking down the sleeve of one of her old coats that Eleanor inherited. "Keep a weather eye, my dear, the unusual is to be guarded against," warns granny, from some other world.
The seniments in the poem remind Eleanor of the day her husband Peter declared there was something strange about a particular windy day, only for them both to discover that a tree had blown down in their avenue just a minute after Peter had passed that very spot bringing the refuse bins to the gate.
Eleanor, who used to work as a clinical nurse tutor in intensive care, knows the power of intuition. "I would always tell my students to be careful and never ignore those little words in your head that are telling you to be careful and slow down. That voice is telling you something. I would say, listen to those gut instincts whatever they are, wherever they come from."
Other powerful poems also feature that are prompted by her time working in intensive care, and which vividly convey the delicate bridge between life and death.
'Delivery' is a poem dedicated to women incarcarated in Magdalene Laundries that came out of Eleanor's experiences when training in midwifery in a Dublin hospital many years ago. "That poem," she says, "was inspired by the terrible cruelties done to women because of being women, and because of being pregnant outside of marriage. It wasn't terribly Christian, so it's an angry poem about the injustices done to women, and are still being done to these women because their testimonies [from their time in the laundries and mother and baby homes] are not being honoured."
Living at Hazel Point on the shores of Lough Derg, the collection will be of interest to people in this locality for the magical way she integrates the lake and and surrounding countryside in the collection.
But don't expect saccharine poetry - that is not the kind of verse that won this poet the Markievicz Award earlier this year, or why several of her poems have been highly commended at writers' events and get published and translated in journals and anthologies worldwide.
"I remember once getting an email from a male poet who said that if I wrote 'nicer' poems I'd go further," says Eleanor
"At one period I srarted writing what I thought were 'nice' poems and my publisher rang me and he said 'what's going on Eleanor?', your poems aren't you. I said, 'you're right', and decided right there I'm just going to write what I write and even if it's dark it's fine."
POETS ON HOOKER'S LATEST COLLECTION
Irish poet, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin - "Eleanor Hooker's voice guides her reader through large metaphoric visions and the consolations of ordinary life. This is a collection full of urgent, haunted poems with a subtle range of approach; they are many-faceted works, reflecting the fragmented strangeness of experience. We face Gothic moments, whose counterweight is the familiar, calm or stormy, world of the lake she lives beside and the people whose life is shared with hers."
Scottish poet, John Glenday - "Eleanor Hooker's poetry has a way of resonating in the reader like secret histories passed down through the generations. It is a strange effect: the drift of these poems seems to have been with us even before we began reading and lingers long after the book is closed. They are both strangely familiar and incredibly new and run the gamut of human experience: poems of sickness and healing; journeys and journeying, poems of the dead and the unborn; of storm and calm. The world she describes for us is by turns unsettling, mythic and surreal, but ultimately so exquisite and affirming that it can only be our own."