Shortlisted for the Irish Times–Poetry Now Award 2017
This powerful new collection combines Katie Donovan’s unflinching insight into our human foibles with her exceptional descriptive gifts. The years of her late husband’s throat cancer are charted in poems by turns tender, harsh and darkly humorous. Donovan gives voice to the carer’s duty of being the one who watches, and contains, what is both a searing tragedy and a chainlink of domestic chores. Meanwhile the sulky electrician and the garrulous taxi driver are part of a cast of unlikely extras who provide a contextual chorus from the everyday world that inevitably carries on.
Donovan grasps talismans of survival: birds foraging in the snow; her daughter’s singing – which lights up the hospice in midwinter – and her son’s success at soccer. The title-poem resists the classic definition of the grieving widow, instead capturing one of Donovan’s enduring motifs – the moment when the mask slips and the true human response is released.
In 2017 Katie Donovan was awarded twenty-first O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry 'for the intensity and conviction of her poetry, in recognition of the great range of both her craft and her subject matter, and in appreciation of her ongoing dedication to the witness and the vocation of the writer'.
'Katie Donovan’s new book, Off Duty, emerged out of the illness and premature death of her partner. Donovan records the devastating impact of that illness and loss on her relationships to her young children, her extended family and partner... If Donovan’s subject is compelling, her style is more jagged: buttoned-down plainness coexists with tender, naively rendered details, alongside occasional shifts to a higher and more obviously poetic register. It is a tricky combination, but… it can be surprising and effective.’ – John McAuliffe, The Irish Times
‘Throughout the collection, Donovan’s voice remains relatable, despite her extraordinary circumstance. She does not romanticise death, or the dying; nor does she make excuses for any ugliness she finds within herself. Yet in ascribing such a tapestry of thoughts and feelings to trauma, she is able to tenderly replicate her experience in all its contradictions; in both its darkness and its light. Off Duty is certainly an account of grieving, for the dead and the dying, but it’s also a study of those who go on living, and who, in time, will thrive again.’ – Julia O’Mahony, Dublin Review of Books
‘The exact capturing of powerful and often contradictory emotions, thoughts and responses in language this vivid is extraordinarily affecting: a chronicle of almost impossible times, ‘both a searing tragedy and a chainlink of domestic chores’.’ – Frank Startup, The School Librarian
Katie Donovan reads three poems
Katie Donovan reads three poems, 'Yearn On', 'Stitching' and 'Rootling' from Rootling: New & Selected Poems (2010). This is an extract from a longer film by Pamela Robertson-Pearce to be included in the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, due from Bloodaxe Books in 2017. She was filmed at home in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, in June 2009.