One of the reasons that I decided to spend this year reading women writers and/or people of color is to challenge myself in new ways. Dharmakaya by Irish poet Paula Meehan is a volume of poetry that does just that.
Something like fate led me to reading Meehan. She is Irish, of course, and Irish poetry remains my first love. But what is more, she lived for awhile in Cheney, Washington. I lived there too from age 6 to age 12 (1966-1972). It is the town where my mother was born and grew up. It is also the home of Eastern Washington University where Meehan attended graduate school.
I had read a few poems by Meehan before. Online and in some Irish journals and anthologies. But this is the first extended time I have spent with her work.
There is much to like, and much that I find outside my comfort zone. But what more could you ask from any poet. It is the definition of successful poetry: comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
Her language is “quintessentially Irish.” By that I mean tongue-playful in a way that American poetry can never be because American English is devoid of the essential musicality and consonant-lyricism that are the stock and trade of the best Irish poets. Lovers of Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanaugh, and Paul Muldoon will recognize what I mean, I think, by the term consonant-lyricism.
What I find “challenging” about Meehan is the bodiness of many of her poems. It is the same discomfort I have felt reading Ginsburg. But in Meehan the “bodiness” is overtly female, which is of course a challenge for me as a male reader. In this way, she is I think a perfect poet for me to be reading.
Here are some of my favorite lines so far:
the mason found the gesture
like the sky when dark finds a star.
* * * * *
my kingdom was as much land
as I could walk: the whole coast
of Leitrim – each rock and stone of it, each cloud,
each water-loving willow and every common herb, each blade
of grass, and even every shadow they cast.
* * * * *
the thock of the boat on the granite wall,
the insidious chunka of chains bumping.
* * * * *
with each falling leaf, a spark of god’s fire
singeing the earth where it falls.