She snakes towards them, belly close to the ground,
listening for his whistle to bear left or right.
They raise their heads, sniff, ears pricked,
then flock together and run for the gate.
She comes back panting to stand at his side,
eyes bright, tongue lolling.
She had the herding instinct from birth;
when she was just a pup he’d ﬁnd her
in the haggard rounding up the hens.
You’ll make a right cod of her, he gives out,
when the children dress her up like their teacher
in their mother’s headscarf and glasses.
They sit her on a chair at the kitchen table,
offer her a cup of tea and a scone.
A Sunday close to lambing, three men in the yard,
one with a shotgun under his arm. Your dog and Dunne’s
wreaked havoc last night, thirty ewes dead or dying,
mangled in barbed wire, lamb-beds hanging out.
From an upstairs window they watch him
walk to the shed. He drags her by the scruff,
leaves her at their feet. He says nothing
when he comes in, says little for weeks.
It was my mother taught me to watch
blood-breasted stonechats on a barbed-wire fence,
to listen for the mournful song of a linnet,
a meadow pipit’s pseeping alarm.
I couldn’t count how many I’ve caught,
ringed, sexed, measured and weighed
but I’ll always remember the first time
in the woods beyond Skibbereen,
when I opened a mist net at dawn,
held a goldcrest hammocked between
finger and thumb, a rosebud in my palm.
Olive nape, yellow crown, eyes
black and glistening as Kilkenny marble.
I held my breath, lest I harm her,
turned my hand so she lay on her back.
She settled as if lulled into a trance.
I opened the cage of my fingers –
a heartbeat, and she was gone.
Among the Cows
Her father knew where to find her;
she liked to stand among the cows,
they smelled of winter and the dark,
they let her lean into their warm bellies.
She watched them in the fields,
as they moved solid and slow, wrapped
their tongues around sweet grass.
She found her own tune in their lowing,
learned to milk as soon as her hands
were strong enough to squeeze.
When her mother died
her father wore his grief the way
he wore his Sunday suit,
as if it belonged to someone else.
She would listen to the calves
calling for days when weaned,
until their voices, exhausted,
faded like mist from the fields.
What surprises me now is not that you’re gone
but how I go on without you, as if I’d lost
no more than a finger. My hand still strong,
perhaps stronger, can do what it must,
like carving your name on a branch from the beech
by the Suck, letting the river take you,
so I can call myself free. Only sometimes,
like yesterday or the day before, last night or this morning,
the river flows backwards, uphill to my door.
10 Daily Bread
11 Rhode Island Reds
12 Harness Room
13 The Blue Bible
14 The Globe
15 The Suck
17 Against the Flow
18 Dry Stone Wall
19 Dropping Slow
22 Blue Ridge Trail
23 For Isobel
25 When I knew
26 White Fields
27 Who owns the field?
28 Before the war
29 Lighthouse Keeper
30 The Catch
31 Every life
32 River at Dawn
33 The Fisherman
34 The Suitcase
36 For Michael
37 Let there be
39 The Ringer
41 Sorrel Hill
43 First Love
45 Arctic Hare
47 On the Boat
48 Cows at Dugort
49 Among the Cows
50 The Price
51 Dust Road
55 Back of an Envelope
56 Where the River Deepens
57 all I will need
58 Every Tree
60 The River
'These are subtle, tender poems of love, loss and growing up on a farm in rural Ireland. Jane Clarke writes with a fine eye for remembered detail in language marked by good farm words like “slane and sickle”, “clout and stud nails”. The river Suck, and the river of life, run through the book and the farmland where the poet was brought up. Every poem leaves something in the mind: the beauty and cruelty of farming, the life of land and animals, of parents remembered in their strength, and in their ageing. A quiet, powerful collection.’ – Gillian Clarke
'These poems burn with the ferocity of their intent in supple and profound music. Many of them are rooted in family life and the seasonal farm work Jane Clarke depicts with such respect and compassion. Others treat of adult relationships in the face of a beautiful, if brutal world. The river music is sometimes the real river music of the Suck and other rivers with their riparian birds and hunger for the sea. Her philosophical bent finds the river in us, in the emotional fluxes, whether in the rapids or the calm shallows. This is not pastoral poetry though there’s plenty of pasture in it, and hens and hay and alders and willows and heifers.
'There’s a visionary at work here, a shaper and shifter, moving us in language that is plain, exact, and true. She invokes Heraclitus’ famous river that can’t be stepped in twice; she could as justly invoke Hopkins’ Heraclitean fire. And the comfort of the Resurrection – for nature to Clarke is a site of renewal and integration. There is both heartbreak and heart’s ease in this auspicious debut from an accomplished craftswoman.’ – Paula Meehan
'Jane’s poems have a two-fold quality of tenderness – not simply their affectionate respect for people and for ways of life, but also the courage to go close to the raw places, facing the grief and unease which comes from loving what can be or already has been lost.' – Philip Gross
‘The River is a collection of poems, not prose masquerading as poetry. Jane Clarke’s lines are honed, measured, finely and finally settled on. She has many of the qualities of her mentor and name-sake Gillian: strength and originality of metaphor, an ear for the music of language and an ability to allow the poem space to accommodate the reader. I recommend The River to readers and writers of poetry.’ - Tony Curtis, Poetry Wales
‘Symbols of transience and change, images of rivers weave through this collection exploring themes of loss, creativity and the natural world. This is a strikingly assured debut that blends touching domestic detail with searing insights. A meditative, thought-provoking collection of verse that stays with the reader, offering solace and inspiration long after the last page is turned.’ – Juanita Coulson, The Lady (Christmas Books 2015)
Jane Clarke reads three poems from her debut collection, The River
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