Dinner in the fields, Attracta Fahy
Fly on the Wall Press, 2020 £6.99
Exploring vulnerability through memory, myth and landscape
Attracta Fahy’s pamphlet spans her life as a girl growing up on a farm in Ireland within a Catholic community, and on into later life when her children leave home. The topics explore extreme vulnerability — from domestic violence, to anorexia, to the longings for a youth now gone and what life might have been had different choices been made. There is no sense of shame in these admissions. This is a straight-eyed, sometimes wry, look at a human life with all its flaws and glory.
Fahy deftly conveys the blithe lack of awareness young people can show for the feelings of their parents. For example, in ‘Fall on me’:
“What are you staring at?” you asked,
as I tried to grasp the image a photo can’t take […]
“You know where I am if you need me.”
“Yes mum I do, six thousand miles away!”
Fahy holds up experiences without over-emphasising her point, trusting in the poem’s ability to reveal their meaning. She addresses difficult subjects, such as in ‘Enduring Utopia,’ where she writes, ‘I’ve built a wall of starvation. / No one enters, not even me.’
However, these aren’t ‘poems as therapy’. Throughout, Dahy employs careful craft and controlled simplicity of language. This allows her to explore complex themes with subtlety and insight.
A sense of landscape and myth weave in and out of the collection, like the coastal Irish breeze that accompanied Fahy’s childhood where ‘Seagulls speak to me / from other worlds.’ (‘Sensual Nature’). And we get to feel the physical sensations of farm life, harvesting hay or ‘Picking Potatoes’:
Tired bodies pacing home
in evening sun,
crimson growing beyond our hill,
These warm and hazy memories work in powerful contrast to other, more devastating poems, such as ‘The Tuam Mother and Baby Home,’ which documents the discovery of a mass grave for babies of unmarried mothers killed at the Catholic orphanage.
Overall, Fahy demonstrates how the specificity of an individual life can resonate with universal truths, allowing us to reflect upon the many contradictions that make up our sorrows and everyday joys.