Nuala Fagan's second collection Not All Birdsong was published by Caterpillar Poetry in November 2015. Comprising 23 poems, the book inhabits a sensitive and acutely observational territory, touching on themes of change, escape, and personal loss. She felt like that upper floor, begins the opening poem, that had been full before. But there are warm glimmers and echoes of hope and happiness, of waves that curl around your feet like kittens, cold sunshine on water turning to luscious gold, and gleaming two-edged truth.
In his foreword, John Foggin notes how although life is not all birdsong, its not without passion, and defines the poet's powerful voice as that of the defiant survivor; the voice of the rueful but unrepentant confessional.
Some of Nuala's strongest poetry seems to stem from an almost abstract quality, where memories and people, places and feelings are recalled without the structural exactitudes of names and linear timescales, as in Keening, where age-old pains and instincts are distilled in a high thin note which reaches far back / to your ancestors / to your very roots,/ and every bad thing that ever happened. Or in poems like Finding Him where she reflects how
She found he was a house
made of bricks and iron shutters
If only he was a house made of glass
she would pull apart the shutters
and plead with her open palm.
Much of the uncertainty and discomfort teetering on chaos is prefigured in the poem Dementia - which pulls no punches in its avalanche of distorted parts / like broken pews / like splintered views - but also in the somewhat pagan, timeless physicality and love of poems like Beethoven's Piano:
He made me feel like Beethoven's piano
gently exploring my finer notes.
But oh those chords, evoked without notice,
making his thoughts my doing, my undoing,
making me a stormy night, a rough sea,
a patriot's passionate shout.
He made me stop like a thudding hoof.
He made me moonlight.
On the book's blurb, Bob Horne notes how Nuala Fagan's lyrical and rhythmic control, her wit and thoughtful, unexpected, imagery combine to celebrate resilience and redemption in these poems of love, loss and time passing. This is evidenced in pieces drawing on motherhood, on the Irish Potato Famine, and on the scars of history and war, such as History House, where a bruised sketch of Irish history is transposed into the form of the house,/ opened at last, and the contrasting opulence of The October orchard ... with its rowan reds, / yellow pearls and
Slices of green?
Mixes of red and white?
A swathe of red silk?
Spread on the road.
Born in Dublin in 1929, Nuala's earliest poetic influences were the works of WB Yeats and national Irish poets, though she also embraced the English Romantics and, as a child, learned many of Shakespeare's sonnets by heart. With a degree in Pyschology, and inspirations as diverse as the art of Bridget Riley and Maurits Esher, her writing is undoubtedly informed by the fifty four years she has lived in the North of England, with poems pealing with Blackpool carved on a rock and the sound of Yorkshire goodbyes. Yet the tug of history is always there, underpinned in beautiful poems like Living in the Song, where
When the song calls me
I am in the song,
I am come back to Erin
and I am called Mo Chusla.
I am called Mavournin,
I am handsome, I am pretty,
I'm the girl from the golden city.
Getting to know Nuala and her poetry, and publishing these evocative, at times wry, sometimes painful, always beautiful poems has been a great privilege. You need to keep your ears open, writes John Foggin in his foreword, for oddly disturbing subtexts - but he also celebrates the voice of one who has learned how to be strong. These are poems, as Ross Kightly writes, full of unexpected vistas, of sand and salt, Galway shawls and lemonade seas, of sadness, and of joy. I am looking at the moon, the poet tells us, and remembering the sun.
Nuala Fagan's Not All Birdsong, ISBN 978-0-957504-01-1
Price: £4.50 inc. postage (contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
Nuala was born in Dublin, brought up in Donegal, and has lived in Halifax since 1961. A graduate in Psychology from the Open University, she has been writing poetry for ten years and credits Gaia Holmes' Igniting the Spark writing workshops for the inspiring many of her poems. It was at these sessions in Halifax that I first had the pleasure of encountering Nuala and her poetry, and I am delighted to be publishing her second collection - Not All Birdsong - imminently. The book will be available via this website and various online sources, as well as various library services, and the following poem is its opening piece. Nuala's debut collection, Cimmerian Garden, was published by Wellhouse Publications in 2010.
She felt like that upper floor
that had been full before.
Her heart whirred
like that spinning spool
as it stumbled to the door,
or like the cranking machine
that braked and clanked
and thudded to the ground:
for you see
there had been a change,
she'd thrown him out.
She felt like that bare room
with just his portrait lying there,
who wove the pattern of her life
and she wondered if the sunlight
on the floor would hold
a picture kinder than before.
© Nuala Fagan