of wet winters; spirits lift at the sight of fields
drying out, grass thickening, calves thriving,
unstoppable growth. There’s talk of young ones
speeding home to vote, swallows back to the barn.
No one asks anyone where they’ll place their X –
every family has stories, left like ploughs
and harrows among thistles behind the sheds.
I’ve got you
Through days of morphine
and titbits to tempt his appetite,
there’s nowhere else to be.
I hold his teacup to his lips,
wash his face and the hands
I rarely touched.
During the night old hurts
and worries surface
like stones in a well-tilled ﬁeld.
What time is it now? he asks
on the hour. He sings to himself
and murmurs lines he learned
as a child, ‘All we, like sheep
have gone astray, we have turned
everyone to his own way.’
When he asks to get up
I hold his wrists,
brace my weight against his.
For a moment he’s confused –
it’s okay Janey, I’ve got you,
go on now, you can stand.
Lofts full before the end of June,
stoat kits playing in the aftergrass,
cattle clustered in dusty circles
among thickets of hazel and ash,
little egrets sentinel-still
in shallows more shallow
than we’ve ever seen.
I sit by my father
and tell him the sun has scorched
every blade of grass.
His headstone’s not up
but the wording’s agreed.
My mother said she knew, just knew I was going to be a girl,
two boys before me and two boys after, fodder for a hungry farm,
but I was hers. She taught me her tricks of the trade: it’ll look
like dinner is nearly ready if the table is set when he comes in,
bread and butter will fill them up, add three drops of vinegar
to water so your mirrors and windows will gleam, cool
your fingers before rubbing lard into ﬂour for pastry, a handful
of ground almonds will keep your fruit cake moist,
darn a few socks every night and never leave the ironing
for more than a week, don’t cut off rhubarb stalks with a knife,
just twist them clean from the crown, and always hold onto
the children’s allowance; a woman must have something of her own.
between mothers and daughters
is how to forgive
the one to whom
you owe too much
what you see when you look
in the mirror
how you forget you were in her
and she is in you
or the way
she loves you
and cannot, will not
leave you alone
12 He stood at the top of the stairs
13 That I could
14 The Rod
16 Cattle Stick
18 Sika Whistle
19 When winter comes
20 Birthing the Lamb
22 Some days
23 The Hurley-maker
24 Point of Departure
25 In Glasnevin
26 Those days
27 Polling Station
29 Copper Soles
30 you pull yourself up
33 The Roof Rack
34 Camping at Bearna
36 The trouble
39 When he falls asleep
42 Planting Trees
43 I’ve got you
45 Blue Cards
47 ‘At last! Are you here at last?’
48 Night Nurse
54 When we left him
56 The Finest Specimen
58 The Yellow Jumper
59 I imagine him telling me over the phone
60 When the tree falls
61 Kelly’s Garden
'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
‘Clear, direct, lovely: Jane Clarke’s voice slips into the Irish tradition with such ease, it is as though she had always been at the heart of it.’ – Anne Enright
'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 from When the Tree Falls and The River at St John's Church, Lafayette Street, Washington DC, one of a series of events in October 2019 organised by Solas Nuas.
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