Ailbhe Darcy was born in Dublin in 1981, raised there, and currently lives in South Bend, Indiana. She has published her poetry in Ireland, Britain and the US, and co-edits Moloch, an online magazine of new art and writing. Selections of her work are included in the Bloodaxe anthologies Identity Parade and Voice Recognition, and in her pamphlet A Fictional Dress (tall-lighthouse, 2009). Imaginary Menagerie (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), her first book-length collection, will be published later this year.
Ailbhe Darcy’s work grows from in-between places: airports, borders, relationships on the verge of starting or ending, the early moment of waking up in a bed in a rented house. Anxieties ensue within these shifting realities, resulting in poems which are skillfully unresolved. She allows her readers no tidy little couplets that tie things up, no imparting lessons. Her endings ache open, and the reader is left with unexpected images and necessary questions. Take ‘Mrs Edgeway’:
. . . between my breasts is a space
where the sky opens wide; my skin is translucent.
I trace the veins,
try to find some thing of substance.
The sibilance she uses puts the reader in mind of whispers, of secrets, of things slipping away, absolutely mirroring the central concerns of the poem. Darcy is masterful with rhythm and sound, with the “mouth-feel” of her work, making reading it a pleasure:
What’s given by the blast
is deep rain, an orgy of worms. Trees
shake their manes, each branch a business
of sexy division. Each bud has a drop for aureole
I want you to touch. Spring, and all
Many of her poems are darkly sensual, and sexy in a Lynchian Blue Velvet sort of way, drawing you in but keeping you on edge –
Last night when you clamped your hand
over my sex
I thought for a moment there was blood
on your hand.
she writes in ‘La Rue Est Rentrée Dans La Chambre’, a poem looking at an unsettling relationship, in which later there are hints of guilt or confessions of complicity:
I had read accusations of inaction
in the papers that day
that all but spelled out my name,
and thought myself a crime against humanity.
This, too, is a kind of social consciousness – how “inaction” can harm our lives personally, socially. As a writer, Darcy also embraces politics and protest, bravely questioning how much we can accomplish, or how much we really want to accomplish. In her protest poem ‘Terminus’,
I’m halted at Hardington, hemmed in outside Heathrow, doubting
my own innocence. The planes we’d hoped to cull
But these poems aren’t calls to stop voting/marching/paying attention – quite the opposite. They confront the humanity of self-doubt and the fear of both change and stasis, somehow showing how these also have a place in protest.
Ailbhe Darcy is fond of mixing high art and pop culture, acknowledging that poetry is not cut off from everyday life, that celebrities and movie characters are part of modern mythology. The Terminator makes an appearance in her ‘Terminus’, for instance, while ‘Telephone’ is dedicated to Lady Gaga, yet can also claim William Carlos Williams’s ‘Spring and All’ as a precurser. Prometheus is invoked when the Twin Towers fall in ‘Panopticon’. ‘The Mornings You Turn Into a Grub’ blends Kafka and Edward de Bono. Artistry is never sacrificed, as the references are meaningfully woven into the text:
I’d half kneel to pray to the future wiser me:
Couldn't you send back a Terminator?
Not only would He lop the knees off those police cocks
picking round our squats, but take His pound
of flesh and lay it on the table . . .
Darcy is adept at leaps of imagination, employing surreal touches and surprising linguistic combinations. In one poem her “eyebrows bustled”; in another, the narrator “swarm[s] in the pool”. Darcy trusts her reader to follow when emotional sense transcends literal meaning. In ‘Couplings’, for example, a fantastical wedding is taking place:
Albertine is the name of the priest,
I have a jar for best man,
a fuschia and fox give me away . . .
There is a kind of joy in these surprises, and an importance too. This is Irish poetry progressing – acknowledging the narrative tradition, but making the language entirely new.
Imaginary Menagerie, Bloodaxe Books, Tarset 2011
A Fictional Dress, tall-lighthouse, London 2009
Darcy on the Bloodaxe website
Darcy on the tall-lighthouse website
’Crossing’, published in Horizon