Berries for Singing Birds, the new collection from poet Eileen Casey, showcases a roving intellect that captures vivid details in its bright beam. From contemporary New York, to a Luas stop on a bitter morning, and across the seas to Australia in the wake of the Earl Grey orphans, Casey brings us on a memorable journey. These poems are keenly attuned to humanity, ageing, vulnerability. Casey is at her strongest when bearing witness to the small injustices that thin our society out, as is demonstrated in Man Melting to keen effect, where a homeless man is ejected from a tram on a freezing morning: ‘each passing mile/ takes us further away from a man’s broken shoes/ flapped against filthy under-soles; a man melting.’
A sequence of poems imagining the journey of the Earl Grey Orphans, groups of vulnerable young Irish women shipped to Australia in the wake of the Famine, strikes a deep chord with Casey, born in the same midlands from which many of the young women were forced to emigrate. Casey explores the restorative power of art and learning, practicing the same crafts which allowed these women to provide for themselves – and in some cases thrive – in the beautiful but harsh new land that awaited them: ‘Sister/ teaches sister teaches sister to sew./ First tack rows the cloth. Ship shears/ ocean’s weft, warp.’
The thread that ties these diverse poems together is an unwavering belief in the resilience of the natural world. Naming the plants of the midlands and Australia becomes a mantra that runs through several poems, tying the histories of both places together through their flora. The natural world continues, despite the many disruptions we face in life, and sometimes provides us with new language in which to tell stories of survival, as in ‘The Lilly Pilly Tree Song’ where a nursing mother writes new songs for her child.
Berries for Singing Birds is a compelling collection. These poems deserve to be read and re-read.
Berries for Singing Birds by Eileen Casey | Waterstones
Arlen House – Syracuse University Press
Eileen Casey, born in the Midlands, lives in South Dublin. Her poetry is published in anthologies by Dedalus, Salmon, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, Lisburn Linen Museum (edited by Lynda Tavakoli), among others. Poems have also published in outlets such as The Sunday Tribune, The Ulster Tatler Literary Miscellany, Poetry Ireland (Future Perfect), Great Expectations (Transition Year Students textbook), Correspondences (co-edited by Jessica Traynor and Stephen Rea). Awards include The Oliver Goldsmith International Prize, The Hanna Greally Awards (Roscommon Libraries) and a Katherine and Patrick Kavanagh Fellowship. She published five poetry collections (New Island, Arlen House, AlTenTs) and a number of chapbooks. Two of her collections (From Bone to Blossom/Reading Hieroglyphics in Unexpected Places) are collaborations with County Offaly artist Emma Barone. The inaugural winner of South Dublin Libraries Poetry on the Wall series, she has shown a number of poetry in public places exhibitions including Seagulls (Tallaght Community Arts, sponsored by The Arts Council of Ireland), The Jane Austen Sewing Kit (Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival). Reading Fire, Writing Flame, awarded by Offaly County Council featured in Poetry Ireland Review edited by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and The Irish Arts Review. The Lea-Green Down, a response anthology to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh and featuring works from over 60 poets was published in 2018 by Casey’s small press Fiery Arrow.
Jessica Traynor is a poet, dramaturg and creative writing teacher. Awards include the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary and the Hennessy New Writer of the Year Award. Her debut collection, Liffey Swim (Dedalus Press, 2014), was shortlisted for the Strong/Shine Award and was named one of the best debuts of the past five years on Bustle.com. Her second collection, The Quick, was a 2019 Irish Times poetry choice. She is Poet in Residence at the Yeats Society, Sligo, and a Creative Fellow of UCD. Current projects include a commission from Offaly County Council and The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to write a poetic history of the town of Banagher. In 2019 with Stephen Rea she co-edited Correspondences: an anthology to call for an end to direct provision, raising funds for MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland).
© Jessica Traynor