We live in uncertain times, and that voters chose ‘Death Rattle’ by Hannah Hodgson as the Ink Sweat & Tears Pick of the Month for February 2020 not only indicates their overwhelming admiration of the poem and the poet but is also an acknowledgement of the fragility of us all. ‘Death Rattle’ is ‘moving and powerful, stark and black’ yet also ‘effortlessly beautiful and effective.’
Hannah is a 22 year old poet living with a life limiting illness and disability. She writes about these themes as well as hospice, feminism and other topics. Her first pamphlet Dear Body was published in 2018. www.hannahhodgson.com.
Back in the day, everyone loved a good hanging –
curiosity gathered in the town square, red-nosed,
waiting for the theatre of mortality to end.
Today I attract the equivalent crowd –
have to untangle my vocal cords
from intrusive questioning.
Hospice is an experience with the brink,
as near the cliff edge you can go without falling.
Natural death isn’t quick.
It begins with a storm brewing in the chest –
thunder of increasing intensity,
crackles of lightning in the airway.
It ends with a moment of clarity,
final words like a rainbow
Other voters’ comments included:
It is simple, a little sad but also calm in the face of death.
It just connects with me in a way that the others don’t
Such a tricky subject matter, but this poem also manages to be beautiful. The “untangling vocal chords” is such a powerful image and the whole poem gets across the idea of intrusion and desperation. I was left speechless the first time I read it.
Such a massively powerful poem that nails its subject matter with great force
I love the line about crackles of lighting in the airway.
Very moving poem and I love Hannah’s economy of expression.
Powerful, spare and thought-provoking
Insight, honesty, economy, essence.
So powerful – and that ending…
I like this poem’s clarity and its lack of sentimentality
Hannah Hodgson’s poem is powerful and emotive without straying into the realms of cliche. The final image of the disintegrating rainbow is one that will stay with me.
Extremely well written
It’s a stunningly honest and clear sighted poem
I love the overlap between sound, physicality and natural phenomena in ‘Death Rattle’, particularly the lines: It begins with a storm brewing in the chest – thunder of increasing intensity, crackles of lightning in the airway
Very moving and yet not sentimental poem, well done to her.
Words that evoke Hannah’s reality.
THE REST OF THE FEBRUARY 2020 SHORTLIST
Some things never change by Maurice Devitt
Before I went to school one day
I hid it under the bed,
forgot about it for years.
Then, when I met you,
something triggered so I dusted it off,
placed it in the centre of the kitchen table.
You hardly noticed – just something
you would learn to take for granted –
and over time it became a fixture,
to be moved when friends came around
and we needed extra room,
until one day I forgot to put it back
and, after a short period adjusting
to revisions in colour and space,
it faded into the background,
a permanent position on the sideboard
beside the clock. The week after you left
I placed it on the fireplace in the bedroom,
directly in my eyeline, while I lay propped
in the discrete light of my telephone screen.
Maurice Devitt is winner of the 2015 Trocaire/Poetry Ireland Competition, and has been runner-up or shortlisted in Listowel, Cuirt, Patrick Kavanagh, Interpreter’s House and Cork Literary Review. He is curator of the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies site, chairperson of the Hibernian Writers’ Group and has recently published his debut collection Growing Up in Colour with Doire Press.
Dinner in the Fields by Attracta Fahy
I remember you
arriving to the fields
when we saved the hay,
bringing the sweet taste of dinners,
encased in Tupperware,
sitting sheltered under haycocks,
in the warm sun.
We rested our young bodies
from sweating our work,
tasted the bright tang of cut grass,
drinking sugared tea
from Miwadi bottles,
our dinner in the fields.
we waited again
for you to come
in the evening.
Buttermilk our snack
between your arrivals.
Longing for tea,
we quenched our dusty mouths.
Finally, the sunset took us home,
before another long day,
bodies stretched in the light,
Attracta Fahy earned her MA in Writing NUIG in 2017. Her poems have been published in many magazines at home and abroad. She was the October winner in Irish Times; New Irish Writing 2019, was nominated for Pushcart 2018, Best of the Web 2019, shortlisted for 2018 Over The Edge New Writer of The Year, and long listed in 2019, shortlisted for Allingham Poetry Prize 2019. Her first collection will be published in March 2020.
Cure by Chris Fewings
I asked the doctor what was wrong with me.
He held his stethoscope to my amygdala.
Thought there was something blocked. Try writing,
he said. I have, I told him. Had to put a bung
in my pen. Stuff kept dribbling out. Can’t you check
my cortisol? I need a pacemaker for my days.
Try walking, he suggested. Try pacing up and down
a treadmill. I have, but I clocked out – the gate
clicked shut behind me. I’ve lost the key.
He offered me bread and wine and pilgrim’s sandals
and a map of the longest river. I told him I was tired.
His pharmacopoeia was nearly empty. Kissing?
Whom? I inquired. Start with a rose, lips to the petals.
Get sensuous with nasturtium. Run your hands
over the smooth bark of a beech tree in the gloaming:
perhaps you’ll meet another pair of hands – perhaps
your kindred spirit will be exploring from the other side.
I stopped off in a churchyard and washed the feet
of an old soak with cracked hands huddled on a bench
and forgot about the roses and the beech. When I got home
someone was sitting on my doorstep with a bowl
of warm water and a towel, a bottle of olive oil, as if
expecting me. I slipped round the back before they saw me,
and found a prescription pinned on the back door:
Let him be loved. Let him raise his voice on the street corner.
Chris Fewings lives in the Rea Valley in Birmingham, where he writes poetry, fiction and other prose, enjoys reading (and reciting dead poets) at open mics, and facilitates writing groups and the work of individual writers. www.fewings.uk
The Art of Collaboration by Kevin Higgins
Whatever job he’s given,
the collaborator is a perfect fit.
A man of no fixed particulars.
His views are plastic
and always on the verge
of being melted down
and made otherwise.
His life is a full orchestra
of raised eyebrows
and suppressed twitches.
The collaborator laughs at your jokes
and makes it look like he means it.
Whatever it is,
the collaborator makes it his business.
He writes everything down,
especially your name.
The collaborator is awake tonight
and looking up the number
of the relevant government agency
so he can phone them tomorrow to tell them
what he’s heard you’ve been doing.
The collaborator doesn’t mind being put on hold.
The collaborator knows
the name of the woman, man, emu
you were with in that hotel room
you shouldn’t have been in.
The collaborator points the nice policeman
in the direction of those
the newspapers say are bad men (and women).
For the collaborator doesn’t discriminate,
except in favour of himself.
Kevin Higgins is co-organiser of Over The Edge literary events in Galway, Ireland. He has published five full collections of poems: The Boy With No Face (2005), Time Gentlemen, Please (2008), Frightening New Furniture (2010), The Ghost In The Lobby (2014), & Sex and Death at Merlin Park Hospital (2019). His poems also feature in Identity Parade – New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010) and in The Hundred Years’ War: modern war poems (Ed Neil Astley, Bloodaxe May 2014). His poems have been quoted in The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Times (London), & The Daily Mirror. The Stinging Fly magazine has described Kevin as “likely the most widely read living poet in Ireland”. His work has been broadcast on RTE Radio, Lyric FM, and BBC Radio 4.
The Machinist by Sarah Passingham
(Put Something of Yourself into Your Work)
The hum and buzz of faster machines buoy her.
Decides brightness should be her default.
She unwraps a blood-red cuff from her wrist,
smoothes it onto the metal bed of her Jones Imperial.
Next, she reaches into the whiteness of her throat,
withdraws a vocal cord. A faint twang like an E string
causes her neighbour to incline her head.
She threads her needle with ease—a muscle memory
from decades—places heel and toe, fore and aft,
sets up the machinist’s rock.
Steel foot lowered, she feels the comfort of pain,
lets out a sigh as she begins to stitch.
Sarah Passingham started to write poetry to improve her prose, then found she couldn’t stop. Her latest book PUSH My Father, Polio, and Me is a family memoir published by Gatehouse Press www.sarahpassingham.co.