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Doireann Ní Ghríofa
(Ireland, 1981)   
Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Doireann Ní Ghríofa was born in Galway in 1981. She grew up in County Clare, and moved to Cork at the age of seventeen. She published two books with Coiscéim in Dublin, Résheoid (2011) and Dúlasair (2012) before publishing her third book Clasp with Dedalus Press in 2015. A bilingual chapbook Dordéan, do Chroí / A Hummingbird, your Heart, published by Smithereens Press in 2014, marked the transition between Irish and English. She returned to write in Irish again in 2017 with a collection entitled Oighear. Ní Ghríofa has been the recipient of many awards, including the Michael Hartnett Prize, the Ireland Chair of Poetry bursary and a Wigtown Award for Gaelic poetry (Scotland). In 2016, Clasp was shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Award; later that year Ní Ghríofa was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

"Poetry begins where language starts: in the shadows and accidents of one person's life", says Eavan Boland in her preface to the volume A Journey With Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet.  The accidents of Doireann Ní Ghríofa's linguistic life have meant that she has moved between languages. After an assured start in Irish, with two volumes published by Coiscéim, Résheoid and Dúlasair, Clasp was her first collection in English. The book is divided into three sections: Clasp, Cleave and Clench. All the power of Ní Ghríofa's voice in Irish is to be found within these pages, the dark intensity of Dúlasair (Dark Flame) is reflected in the tight verbal titles of the different subsections of the new collection. The variety of tone and subject matter is astonishing. Amongst the most striking poems is 'The Horse Under The Hearth' (p. 12-13), a companion piece to Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoighre [lament for Art Ó Laoghaire], voiced by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, imagined for Art's horse, in scenes reminiscent of The Godfather: "And so her head came back, in a wet sack that leaked in my lap". Striking too is the poem 'Maeve in Chile', where the warrior queen and the legendary Irish poem 'Valparaiso' intersect with John Montague's 'Grafted Tongue': "I know the shape of a dead tongue in my mouth" (p. 15).

In Clasp, Ní Ghríofa raids the myth-kitty of both Irish and Greek mythology, weaving images of violence that combine the ancient and the modern in a poetry that is tense and tactile, inscribing loss visually in poems like 'Instructions To Kill a Daughter's Minotaur' (p. 17-18), where the mutilation is reflected in the split cleaving the poem in two. The woman's body is central to the collection, highlighted, visible, unconquered. Forgotten bones are reclaimed, gendered territory is staked out; it is clear that Ní Ghríofa's has a voice that will not be silenced. On the contrary, as in 'Valise of Memories' (p. 14) or 'Bone Flute', she is determined to reawaken objectified, subaltern figures: "Breath into bone, her air raises you. She lifts your wing/ and, over dark hills, a new sound sings" (p. 26).

Boland once evoked the subjects that did not make it into Irish poems, among them the invisible suburban lives of young mothers. In the second section of Clasp, entitled 'Cleave', the life of a young woman and her daily cares are central—'On Bringing a First Child to School' (p. 40) with its laundry lines, or 'Cocoon' (p. 41) with its dinosaurs and Lego towers, thrust these moments into the spotlight. Yet Ní Ghríofa is audacious enough to mobilise the arch-poet, WB Yeats himself in 'Cuchulain Comforted', as an inter-text for a car-ride with a young son: "A twin whistling turns my mirror-glance back/to you, small son, where suddenly you too,/have the throat of a thrush." (p. 39).

Ní Ghríofa is remarkable also because she maintains a poetic practice in both Irish and English. So often poets cleave to one language or another: Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, for instance, essayed her English voice before recognizing that her poetics were best served by the Irish language, while Michael Harnett renounced Irish before returning to English yet again. The dual language approach of Ní Ghríofa sets her apart. One recognises a cross-fertilisation in her poetics. The pages of Oighear are marked by the same formal experimentation that characterises Ní Ghríofa's writing in English. However, Ní Ghríofa also enables the reader to recognize the attraction of the syntax and sonorities of the Irish language. She makes the language sing in poems like 'Sragall Stáin' [tinfoil] (p. 12-13), where in lines such as "chun béal-béasaí/ a chur ar bhabhlaí" [to mute the bowls] the compression of the invented compound word sends us back to Seán Ó Ríordáin; and yet, we cannot read the poem without thinking of the brilliance of GM Hopkins' "shook foil". 'Faoi Ghlas' [locked up](p. 17-18) is reminiscent of the structure of poems in Clasp, with its splintered lines and its linguistic fragmentation, common to many of the poems in Oighear. The poem pays homage to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin's masterful 'Glas/Clós/Gloss', thus uniting both Irish and English language traditions on the island, while displaying the linguistic awareness that Ní Ghríofa's dual language existence has fostered and nourished. Be it in Irish or in English, the vitality and force of Doireann Ní Ghríofa's powerful poetic voice ensure that her poetry will endure.

© Clíona Ní Ríordáin

Résheoid, Coiscéim, Dublin, 2011
Dúlasair, Coiscéim, Dublin, 2012
Dordéan, do Chroí / A Hummingbird, your Heart, Smithereens Press, 2014
Clasp,  Dedalus Press, 2015
Oighear, Coiscéim, Dublin, 2017


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