Buzzed Books #57 by Amy Watkins
Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s Bloodroot
As I pretty much devoured Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s Bloodroot, I felt a little embarrassed because American readers (like me) tend to romanticize Ireland. A small, foolish part of me expects both magic and grit from Irish writers. I can only rationalize my silliness by pointing out that I’m a writer from the American South, and we face similar expectations. Both Ireland and the South are romanticized, famous for suffering. Both are steeped in repressive religious traditions. Both are haunted by their own misremembered histories. The most magical thing about Bloodroot may be that Ní Churreáin meets such expectations while maintaining her own authentic voice.
The poems set in Ireland seem to breathe with history:
Each night the room fills with the scent
of damp, dark hide, the blight-spread,
the fed ill,
hot rank and desperate.
When I turn in my sleep, I don’t know who I am.
Evocative poems like this one sound like myth, or the scary old versions of fairy tales.
In the second section, many poems use Irish myths and legends as framework for stories about women and girls in women’s homes and reform schools:
…who, having lain among waves, were dragged back up again
by the hair and stripped of their names to pay for the wrongs
in their bellies, as they stitched lace, pressed linen sheets,
and each week bowed their heads to the post-partum girls…
These are my favorite poems in the collection. The voice is hard-edged and unapologetic.
They said little
but within that little lay much;
little was a gated field in which something extraordinary was buried.
As Ní Churreáin deftly maneuvers through a variety of inspirations and changes of poetic presentation, she reclaims the stories of shamed and abused women. Their voices are powerful, even defiant. The interweaving of recent and distant history with myth and family stories gives these poems surprising depth and immediacy.
Bloodroot also includes poems set in Florida, New York, India, and elsewhere. I’m impressed that Ní Churreáin is able to convey such a strong sense of place with so many places. The poems set in Cassadaga and the St. John’s River fit seamlessly with poems set in “Indian foothills”–a welcome reminder to an American reader like me that all places are exotic, magical or mythic, or can be. Ní Churreáin’s poetic voice brings magic to every setting she writes.
Amy Watkins (Episodes 124, 161, 164, 192, and 209) grew up in the Central Florida scrub, surrounded by armadillos and palmetto brush and a big, loud, oddly religious family, a situation that’s produced generations of Southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl and earned her MFA in poetry from Spalding University. She is the author of Milk & Water (Yellow Flag Press, 2014) and the art editor for Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine.