Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Those lilies speak for themselves.

 Those lilies speak for themselves. Zephyr is a gem of Irish-Alaskan social storytelling. 

Words that make me happy. Unsolicited words in a review. I'm to the age where being invisible happens. It's great when someone far removed from my life notices.

While driving to school in Oranmore yesterday (allegedly the most depressing day of the year) a car turning right bumped into my old banger and left me skidding towards an on-coming silver Mercedes. Had I or the SUV that bumped me (in my apparently invisible fourteen year old Toyota Yaris) been driving fast it would have been a three car pile-up. I woke today feeling very happy and rang the woman who hit me to tell her so. Lucky, lucky, lucky. 
A few hours later our postman brought me a pack-chig; a brown envelop with handwriting I did not recognize, addressed to me, Ballinderreen Village, Galway. Did I ever tell you how much I like living in a place that has no numbers in my address? It makes shopping on-line quite tricky, but it is so lovely that the postman requires nothing more than my name and my village. I love my postman. His name is Mick. He calls me darling. All I do for him is give him a bottle of wine at Christmas. 

This surprise and very welcome review of Zephyr by John Liddy fell onto my hall floor. The review of my book is the last article in the last edition of the literary journal called REViVAL. Condolences and fair winds to all associated with REViVAL, 'tis a pity that it has reached the end of its road. I'd revive you if I could. And, thankfully, I required no reviving yesterday. I'm revved up. Perhaps I'll write a feminist manifesto.

REViVAL, A Literary Journal, Issue 28, October/November/December 2013
Mary Mullen
Salmon Poetry, 2010

On first browsing through these poems with my customary ‘getting to know you’ routine, I thought that this is a book for women—written by a woman, published by women and with cover art work by a woman. The dedication, at first, is to the poet’s mother and then her father. But on closer reading a much wider picture emerges. The feminist viewpoint is present but it is not a feminist manifesto. Poem after poem reveal Mullen’s eye for landscape—Alaska and the West of Ireland, backdrops for the poet’s deeply personal and private concerns. But the real heroine in this book is the poet’s daughter Lily, born in Co Galway with Down syndrome, a special needs child and Mullen, not as mother but as poet, gives us a rare view of Lily’s world, one not found in Sunday Supplements.
      The book opens with poems about Alaska, Mullen’s homeland, which she left behind for a life in Ireland. But she goes back in this opening section and in the first poem we learn that Smelt, a fish that once flourished along the Pacific Northwest from Alaska to British Columbia and as far south as Northern California, is also known as oolichan or hooligan, that the Irish-speaking immigrants working out of Anchorage stayed with a lovely lady Nellie Cronin and built a church in Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It is a gem of Irish-Alaskan social storytelling.
     The poem First Response marks the Irish section and is followed with poems about the birth of her daughter Lily a few hours after the signing/of the Good Friday Peace Agreement and each poem hence deals with an aspect of Lily’s life. Lilyisms 2006 portrays the funny side of caring for her daughter who says
                            The postman brings me a pack-chig.
                            Sometimes boys are ick gusting.
                            And sometimes I wish I had a dumb bed
                            so I could sleep up high.
                I can read Snow White and the Seven Dovers,
                my favourite one is Grumpy. Like my Mum!       
And in the very moving Irish Athletes Walk Tall in Shanghai, Mullen pours out her heart in the lines
            You are half Alaskan gold, half Connemara marble.
            You are soft and full of wily talk,
proud to spell tricky words, puzzled by nuance.
You know when the phone rings it is not for you—
my polar bear ready to spring off melting ice.
I can’t stop crying in my own Shanghai.
But you, you, you are Nureyev, leaping.

In Pint of Milk we are treated to the poet’s wrath through words of closure directed at somebody who walked away and is no longer part of their lives, in which she plainly says
                        You are dead: sanded into extinction.
                        I put a candle on my desk,
and lilies; and made a vow to never
again give you the dignity of a poem.

Those lilies speak for themselves. And as the book comes to a close other references to lemon peels, blackberries and forget-me-nots play vital roles in the completion of poems about male crudity, a longing for company and for Alaska. We are left to ponder the whole of this work in the cark park of the Writer’s Retreat in Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan, with a legendary note from Bernard Loughlin and the poet thinking
                                And somewhere in Lourdes, a brave girl
                                lights a candle for her lake-staring mother.

                                                                                                                      John Liddy, Madrid 2013


  1. 'a gem of Irish-Alaskan social storytelling.' That about sums up the book and you, Mary. Fantastic! Congrats - well deserved.
    We have a lovely postman too. If I'm not in, or if it's very early, he puts the post in the shed or my car and leaves a note. Over and above!

    1. I do love our postal service. Hope a few cards found their way to you today.

  2. "Those lilies speak for themselves. Zephyr is a gem" ......
    I am so proud and happy for you, dear friend.. Time for me to re-read that delicious morsel/work of art and scoop up a few copies to send to some friends. What a gift it is, and what a gem of a gift you are, MM.

    1. Thanks Mary dear. Did you see that poem about snow I posted a few days ago? Thought you and Dicky would get a kick out of it. xx

  3. Huge congrats, Mary, on a brill review, fantastic. And glad you and the other cars weren't going fast. Enjoy the happiness of those words - created in reaction to your own. x

    1. Thanks, Shaunag. I hope this car bump bumps my procrastination...