hush, Majella Kelly
ignitionpress, 2020 £5.00
She says out loud
This excellent new publication is preoccupied with language, as all good poetry pamphlets should be. But particularly preoccupied with what we (some of us) are not allowed to say.
Hush is about being a woman. Particularly in Ireland. The second of its three sections concerns the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, where 796 children died and were buried unrecorded between 1925 and 1961. These poems explicitly tackle what was not said and what it is still difficult to say.
I love ‘In Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’’, which conflates the painting with the community’s ignorance of what was happening behind the walls of the Home:
How essential it was to Christianity,
I think then, to paint an unsettling picture
were burning, for all my father knew, rivers
were freezing and animals were feeding
on human flesh behind those grey high walls.
‘The Voice’ gives words to one of the silenced mothers of the Home, ‘given / [her] voice on a spoon and told: swallow it’.
‘Dandelions’ imagines ‘the lost voices of the children’ and brings them together with the speaker’s own defiant voice: ‘I am a sinner […] due to the extra-marital sex I engage in for my pleasure and the pleasure of my lover.’ She dares to play with the language of Christianity: ‘Blessed be the dandelions, I say out loud. Let the dandelions come to me, do not hinder them.’
These poems in section two are the heart of the pamphlet for me, but they are strengthened and balanced by the other two sections, which cover similar themes of love and language and power.
For example, ‘Clipping a Cockatiels’ Wings (For Dummies)’ is a brilliantly disturbing double poem about domestic abuse, where the greater part of the text could literally be about a cockatiel (although the bird is still ‘she’), and the part explicitly about a woman is almost silenced in its brevity, as well as explicitly silencing her: Tell her, if she loves you, / to keep her beak shut’.
These are poems to hush up and listen to.