By VIEW editor Brian Pelan
One of the things that I always find disturbing while walking through Belfast city centre is the sound and fury of fundamentalist preachers. They roar at the top of their lungs: “You are all damned to live in hell unless you embrace Jesus.“
Poet Moyra Donaldson’s stunning new collection, Bone House, digs and probes into the theme of fear, relationships between mothers and daughters, and her own strict upbringing. Slivers of hope protrude amidst lines of tension, tiredness and doubt.
In an Irish Times article in April this year, Moyra wrote: “As the first wave of the global pandemic started to wash ashore in the UK and Ireland, I found myself afraid; afraid for those I love, my family, my friends; afraid of the grief that this virus would bring, afraid for myself. It felt like another, added level of the fear that I live with, that I accepted as part of my nature. My daughters laugh at me sometimes – call me Mrs Doom, for if there is a bad outcome to be imagined, I imagine it; worst case scenarios. During this period I was also trying to work on my new collection, Bone House, which began with the overarching theme of mothers and daughters.
Moyra also writes: “There is a darkness at the heart of those Presbyterian fundamentalist religious beliefs that is rarely spoken about, that is barely recognised. A fear that gets into your bones, a fear that spills into politics, into everyday life and into the future. It is no coincidence that the DUP has strong ties to evangelical churches. My collection, Bone House, is my attempt to confront the origins of my own fear and to move forward.”
In any new collection, I initially seek out poems with emotional intensity. Bone House does not disappoint.
In Give Yourself Peace, Moyra writes;
The hardest bed to lie on
is the bed you have made yourself;
how your hips ache,
how the dreams come dark.
Or in A Sudden Shaft of Light, it starts with;
My demented mother
who doesn’t know me anymore,
looks up as I come into the room.
Ach – there’s my wee darling Moyra
she says, such love in her voice
And ends with: and I, new born again and perfect,
know myself beloved daughter
before the darkness closes in again.
The rawest of anger is portrayed in Hecuba in the Bowtown Estate. Using the imagery of the Greek warrior queen, the writer tells of her anger at drug dealers who threatened a girl with baseball bats.
I am the bitch-mother that howls outside your window
on those dark nights when sleep is hard to find –
mind you never leave your door ajar
or I’ll be in your bed with you, blood
on my mad jaws, tearing open
the yellow flab of your belly,
eating your balls.
The pandemic jolted all of our lives as we slowly tried to come to terms with living through a global pandemic. In the beautiful First glimpse of Orcas in Faxaflói Bay, Moyra offers us an image of hope and strength as she observes the whales surfacing;
in the curve of their black bodies
hung for one moment
against the white ice space
between sea and sky.
I am lifted on their shining backs
into a fierce new longing.
‘Bone House’ is honest and truthful in its depictions of life’s struggles and the hope that arises when a baby is born. I, for one, savoured this collection from a very talented poet.
• BONE HOUSE, published by Doire Press – www.doirepress.com/books/poetry/feminist-poetry/bone-house