Jessica Traynor reviews, interviews & books of the year
'Fierce and profound, Pit Lullabies is one of the vital books of the new Irish poetry.' – Ciarán O’Rourke, New Hibernia Review
Irish poet Jessica Traynor's Pit Lullabies was published by Bloodaxe in March 2022. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Spring 2022 and was shortlisted for the inaugural Yeats Society Poetry Prize in 2023. Pit Lullabies is Jessica Traynor’s third collection, following Liffey Swim (2014) and The Quick (2019) from Ireland’s Dedalus Press.
The intimate, visceral and often wickedly funny poems of Pit Lullabies journey through the darker days of new parenthood, teasing out the anxieties which plague us when night falls. Violence against women, the destruction of our environment, the poisons and pitfalls of 21st-century living are explored here in poems by turns lyrical and earthy, yearning and angry.
Jessica launched Pit Lullabies online with Bloodaxe Books on 24 March 2022 (alongside Moniza Alvi, Amali Gunasekera) - see video below - and gave an in-person launch reading at Hodges Figgis in Dublin. Details of her forthcoming readings are here.
In March 2023, Jessica Traynor was named recipient of the Lawrence O'Shaughnessy Award for Poetry 2023, a prestigious American award which honours both the literary achievement of the poet and their contribution to the community of writers in Ireland. More on this story here.
’Anatomy Scan’ from Pit Lullabies was Highly Commended by the Forward Prize judges in 2022 and is included in The Forward Book of Poetry 2023.
Jessica Traynor’s poem ‘Ditches’, the first poem in her sequence ‘On Poisons', was featured on posters in the Poems on the Underground series – one of a set of posters for summer 2022. This set of Poems on the Underground posters circulated on London Underground and Overground cars from 18 July 2022 for four weeks. See the poem on the Poems on the Underground website here.
FRANK SKINNER’s POETRY PODCAST
Frank Skinner’s Poetry Podcast: Jessica Traynor, online 31 January 2024
Jessica Traynor’s third collection Pit Lullabies was the subject of Frank Skinner’s Poetry Podcast of 31 January. Frank read and discussed the poems ‘The Parent’s Song’ and ‘Nureyev in Dublin’. He also mentioned and quoted from ‘Song of the Insomniac’ and ‘Turbulence’. The poems in italics are from the sequence ‘An Island Sings’. A generous and very insightful reading of the collection by Frank Skinner.
‘[Nureyev in Dublin’ is] a beautiful poem from a beautiful collection - I’ve said beautiful a lot during this podcast … but if you read Jessica Traynor’s Pit Lullabies, you’ll realise why.’ – Frank Skinner
‘The Irish poet, Jessica Traynor, explores one of Frank’s favourite subjects – ageing performers who don’t know when to quit. The collection referenced is Pit Lullabies by Jessica Traynor. The cycle of poems referenced is ‘An Island Sings’. The poems referenced are ‘The Parent’s Song’, ‘Song of the Insomniac’ and ‘Nureyev in Dublin’.’
Frank Skinner has previously discussed the poetry of Selima Hill and Clare Pollard on his podcast. In June 2021 he devoted an episode to the work of the late Denise Levertov.
The Lyric Feature: In A Place of Pointed Stones, written and presented by Jessica Traynor, will be rebroadcast on 4 February 2024. It includes new poems Jessica wrote especially for the programme. Details below.
LYRIC FEATURE PRESENTED BY JESSICA TRAYNOR
The Lyric Feature: In A Place of Pointed Stones, RTÉ Lyric FM, Sunday 15 October 2023, 6pm, rebroadcast Sunday 4 February 2024, 6pm
Jessica Traynor was commissioned to write a poetic history of Banagher in County Offaly, a town in the middle of Ireland located on the banks of the River Shannon.
Jessica then presented a half-hour Lyric Feature for RTÉ Lyric FM. Jessica’s new poems were woven through the programme, for which she interviewed residents as well as local historian James Scully. One poem, the result of a collaboration with local school children, was set to music by Belfast composer Elaine Agnew, who spoke about the process of setting the poem to music and working with the children. The poem was collaged by Jessica from workshops with the transition year students at Banagher College,
Jessica read the new poems she had written especially for this project: ‘Nancy Kelly’s Banagher’, ‘The Horse Fair’, ‘St Rynagh and the Bishop’, ‘Foxes in the Graveyard’, ‘Charlotte on the Bridge’, ‘Banagher Beats the Devil’. The poem ‘From the Shannon to Saint Rynagh’s’ was set to music by Elaine Agnew and was performed by the 6th Class students of St Rynagh’s National School Branagher. Additional music was from James McEvoy singing his song ‘The Town I Left Behind’.
‘In A Place of Pointed Stones, Jessica Traynor explores the history and folklore of Banagher with local historian James Scully, and we hear new poems and a new song inspired by her research.’
Listen via Lyric FM: https://www.rte.ie/radio/lyricfm/clips/22308865/
Jessica Traynor wrote a piece about the background to this Lyric Feature for the RTE website here. A video of the song being performed and then discussed by the school children is included.
IRISH PRESS FEATURE WITH JESSICA TRAYNOR
Sunday Independent, My Life in Books, Sunday 19 February 2023
Jessica Traynor was interviewed for the Sunday Independent’s 'My Life in Books' feature of 19 February. In the final section she mentions her third collection Pit Lullabies as the book she would most like to be remembered for: ‘It’s an attempt to capture the uncanny side of motherhood and to explore the existential crises that we are facing into as a species through the lens of parenthood.’
In print and online here. Register to read in full for free.
FILM POEM FROM PIT LULLABIES
A stunning Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation film of Jessica Traynor reading 'Onion Poem' from Pit Lullabies was premiered a the Irish Arts Centre in New York at the 13th Annual PoetryFest in December 2022. Jessica read at the festival alongside Ilya Kaminsky.
Jessica Traynor reads 'Onion Poem' from Pit Lullabies
Film directed by Matthew Thompson and produced in collaboration with Irish Arts Center, NYC.
BOOKS OF THE YEAR PICKS FOR PIT LULLABIES
The Irish Times, Books of the Year 2022, Saturday 26 November 2022
Jessica Traynor’s third collection Pit Lullabies was one of Sinéad Gleeson’s choices in The Irish Times’ Best books of 2022 chosen by writers feature of 26 November.
‘This year saw so much stellar Irish writing: Polluted Sex, short stories by Lauren Foley, Louise Kennedy’s Trespasses, Sara Baume’s Seven Steeples, Edel Coffey’s thriller Breaking Point (all novels), Jessica Traynor’s poetry collection Pit Lullabies…’ - Sinéad Gleeson, The Irish Times (Books of the Year 2022, Writers’ Favourites)
Read the full feature here.
The Irish Times, The best new poetry of 2022, Saturday 26 November 2022
Pit Lullabies was chosen by Irish Times poetry critics Martina Evans and Seán Hewitt for their best new poetry of 2022 feature in The Irish Times of 26 November.
‘Some of our best-known poets, such as Jessica Traynor and Annemarie Ní Churreáin, also released new collections. Traynor’s Pit Lullabies (Bloodaxe) and Ní Churreáin’s The Poison Glen (Gallery) were both concerned with incantation, hexing, history and womanhood, though each is a distinct and urgent voice in their own right.’ – Martina Evans & Seán Hewitt, The Irish Times (The best new poetry of 2022)
Available by subscription only.
Pit Lullabies was one of Poetry Book Society Selector Anthony Anaxagorou's Poetry Books of the Year.
'Pit Lullabies: A sharp wit fused with philosophical ruminations on the female body along with the concerns of early parenthood. The work outlines the interiority of a new mother’s mind to suggest a state infatuated and fraught, cautious and uncertain.' - Anthony Anaxagorou (via Twitter)
Jessica Traynor wrote a piece about birthing, mortality and writing her third collection Pit Lullabies for the October 2022 issue of the Northern Irish journal The Honest Ulsterman.
‘Rooting in the Dark: Writing Pit Lullabies’: read online here.
US REVIEW COVERAGE
Pit Lullabies is distributed in the USA by Consortium Book Sales. Jessica will be giving readings in New York and Washington DC on 4 and 7 December 2022. Details here.
An in-depth review featured in the Summer 2022 issue of New Hibernia Review.
'Jessica Traynor’s new collection rings out like a sudden arrow striking its target: a lean, long shock of fibrous music, altering the air. Particulate and probing, the book nevertheless provides a panoramic picture of a tarnished world... Fierce and profound, Pit Lullabies is one of the vital books of the new Irish poetry.' - Ciarán O’Rourke , New Hibernia Review
SUMMER BOOKS CHOICES
Pit Lullabies was chosen by Nuala O’Connor for The Irish Times' best books of 2022 so far' feature of 23 July 2022.
'I’ve been moved by Jessica Traynor’s mothering poems in Pit Lullabies – intricate, thought-provoking and delightful.' - Nuala O’Connor, The Irish Times
Read the full feature via The Irish Times website here.
Jessica Traynor’s Pit Lullabies was chosen by writer Sinéad Gleeson for The Guardian feature of 30 June 2022 ‘What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in June’.
‘Ireland, where I’m from, is not short of great writers… In poetry, there were standout works from Jessica Traynor in Pit Lullabies and Victoria Kennefick’s Eat or We Both Starve.’ - Sinéad Gleeson, The Guardian (Books enjoyed in June)
Read the full feature here.
Sinéad Gleeson writes in more detail about Pit Lullbies in the Dubray Books blog here..
ONLINE INTERVIEW WITH JESSICA TRAYNOR
Books Ireland, Poet on Poet, online 21 July 2022
Poet Stephanie Conn interviewed Jessica Traynor for Books Ireland’s Poet on Poet feature. A video of Jessica reading her poem ‘Night Run’ especially for Books Ireland is also embedded in the piece.
‘Pit Lullabies is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and it is not difficult to see why. This is a stunning collection by a poet in full command of her medium and subject matter.’ – Stephanie Conn, Books Ireland (Poet on Poet)
Read this in-depth interview on Books Ireland's website here.
JESSICA TRAYNOR READS THREE POEMS ON EAT THE STORMS PODCAST
Eat the Storms podcast, Episode 10, 16 July 2022
Jessica Traynor read and introduced three poems from her third collection Pit Lullabies on the Irish podcast Eat the Storms. The poems were ‘Anatomy Scan’, ‘PIT LULLABY VII’ and ‘Lessons’.
Jessica is introduced at 49:10. Listen here.
IRISH RADIO INTERVIEWS
Arena, RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday 26 April 2022, 7pm
Jessica Traynor was interviewed live in the studio on RTÉ Radio 1’s week-nightly arts show Arena on 26 April. She was talking to host Seán Rocks about her recently-published third collection Pit Lullabies..
Jessica read and introduced her poems ‘Wolf’s Bane’ from her ‘On Poisons’ sequence, and ‘PIT LULLABY VII’ from the title sequence - a broken sequence of poems scattered through the whole book. She also read ‘Anatomy Scan’ and ‘Lessons’.
Available as a separate chapter on Arena's website. Listen here.
The Poetry Programme, RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday 27 March 2022, 7pm
Jessica Traynor was interviewed on the first programme in the new series of The Poetry Programme which was broadcast on Mother’s Day, 27 March. She was talking to Olivia O’Leary about her just-published third collection Pit Lullabies.
‘Jessica Traynor explores the pleasure and the pain of motherhood’ (Olivia O’Leary). Jessica read and introduced her poems ‘Megalodon’, ‘Metaphysical Breast Milk Poem’, ‘Onion Poem’, ‘Hunting Lions’, and ‘Lullaby’ - all from Pit Lullabies.
Jessica also spoke about the forthcoming opera Paper Boat, which will be performed in Galway on 23 April. Jessica wrote the libretto, which was set to music by composer Elaine Agnew.
‘Poems that celebrate mothers and motherhood when Rachael Hegarty and Jessica Traynor join Olivia O'Leary in the first Poetry Programme of a new season.’
The programme starts at 06:22. Jessica features in the intro and from 21:02.
Click here to listen.
IRISH PRESS FEATURE COVERAGE
Sunday Independent, Notions & Necessities, Sunday 24 April 2022
Jessica Traynor’s third collection Pit Lullabies was included in the Sunday Independent’s Notions & Necessities feature on 24 April.
‘Award-winning poet Jessica Traynor’s new collection Pit Lullabies is now available; it’s a beautiful meditation on, among other themes, new parenthood, violence against women, and the destruction of the environment.’ - Liadán Hynes, Sunday Independent (Notions & Necessities)
Read the full feature via the Sunday Independent's website here.
‘Here an acerbic wit is fused with ruminations on the female body along with the concerns of early parenthood… Traynor’s sound is effortlessly hypnotic, her language formed, deliberate and lyrical.’ – Anthony Anaxagorou, Poetry Book Society Selector, on Pit Lullabies
Pit Lullabies was very well reviewed by Martina Evans in The Irish Times of 19 March 2022, now available online by subscription here.
‘ …it is that strong sense of uncanniness throughout Jessica Traynor’s Pit Lullabies that marks it with distinction. The eponymous Pit Lullabies – there are 10 in total – form a wild, exhilarating backbone to this collection where bone is a key word. A book about motherhood and birth trauma… its roots are firmly entrenched in the natural world… Traynor’s poems, like those of Walter de la Mare, are most deadly when they are pared back, almost child-like.’ – Martina Evans, The Irish Times
Pit Lullabies was one of the books by Irish women writers recommended by Sinéad Gleeson in the Dubray Books blog of 20 April 2022:
'I’ve long admired Jess Traynor’s poetry, which is as confident being serious and historical, as it is when it’s arch and playful. There’s a tenderness to how Traynor writes about motherhood, the body, the places we find ourselves. Her new collection Pit Lullabies proves that she’s one of our finest poets, moving through myths, love, and the environment. It’s a visceral work that I know I’ll go back to again and again.' - Sinéad Gleeson, Dubray Books blog: Irish Writers Recommend Books by Irish Women
Read the full blog here.
An excellent in-depth review of Pit Lullabies went online at Dublin Review of Books on 1 September 2022.
‘But while it may be dark stuff… the language is also wonderful: gothic, Anglo-Saxon, visceral, and well, exhilarating. It’s also attentive to both the tender and the subterranean emotions that arise with the experience of motherhood. More than that, Pit Lullabies harks back to knowledge from ancient times, reminding us of our innate powers as women and as life-givers.’ - Afric McGlinchey, Dublin Review of Books
Read this brilliant essay review in full here: https://drb.ie/articles/for-your-discomfort/
Books Ireland, online 30 March 2022
A video of Jessica Traynor reading her poem ‘Night Run’ from her just-published third collection Pit Lullabies was featured in Books Ireland’s Poetry Happening series, accompanied by the text of the poem. See the feature here. The video is below. An in-depth interview with Jessica Traynor has gone online at Books Ireland on 21 July 2022. Read here.
Jessica Traynor reads 'Night Run' from her new collection, Pit Lullabies.
Jessica Traynor’s poem ‘Holidaying with Dad During the Divorce’ from Pit Lullabies was featured in the Winter/Spring 2022 issue of the American journal TriQuarterly. The poem was featured online on 15 January 2022, along with audio of Jessica reading it, which can be found here.
Jessica featured on the Words Lightly Spoken podcast in 2019, reading the poem 'If you can tame a wildcat you can raise a baby' - a poem now published in Pit Lullabies. The recording can be found here.
JOINT LAUNCH EVENT
Thursday 24th March 2022, 7pm GMT
Launch reading by Moniza Alvi, Amali Gunasekera and Jessica Traynor
Live-streamed launch event by Moniza Alvi, Amali Gunasekera and Jessica Traynor celebrating the publication of their new poetry collections.
The readings were followed by a discussion with the host, Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley.
[25 March 2022]