Contemporary Poets: 29 Medbh McGuckian

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The Independent Culture
Born in 1950 in Belfast, where she was educated at the Queen's University and now lives with her family, Medbh McGuckian came to prominence when she won the National Poetry Competition in 1979 and afterwards published her first collection, The Flower Master. Her poetry is rhapsodic in its rhythms and often surrealistic in its imagery - describing what it means is never easy. But its central themes are impossible to mistake: domesticity and motherhood; religion and sexuality; the rich fecundities of nature and art. Her fourth and most recent collection, published by Bloodaxe last year, is Marconi's Cottage.


If I had dipped the tip of my finger

in water to cool your tongue,

you would have tasted salt off trees

forty miles from the sea.

Our voices in ordinary conversation

floated between farmhouses:

the pilot-light of a candle

burned in the open air

with no attempt to flicker.

Firmly-knit thatch

simply rested on the eaves

of its own permeable weight.

Slowly and steadily, the storm

that shared your name

reduced its current,

till every attentively incomprehending

tile of your skin

caught and flamed.

Nothing was to be seen through the closed lids

of your eventful dreaming,

the closed avenue of your new senses

beginning as absolute strangers

their ready-to-be-reaped, matured homecoming.

Through some friction with material substance,

like engaging a clutch, or intermeshing gears,

you turned the dew into something enchanted,

unbolted, a collapsible telescope,

a balloon untethered, a ball

from which the air has escaped.

You were now inside a lift

rising between two floors, no longer noticeable,

being whipped like the cork of a champagne bottle

out through a dark and narrow shaft

or rushing valley, into a higher frequency,

a faster vibration - into all the Irelands]

Bring your loosened soul near,

look through,

meet my day-consciousness

in the lawfulness of what is living:

return a different June to me -

once only, slide

until the union holds.

(Photograph omitted)