Anne Casey is a Sydney-based Irish poet/writer. A journalist, magazine editor, legal author and media communications director for 30 years, her work is widely published internationally and has won/shortlisted for prizes in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. Twitter: @1annecasey
What book(s) are you reading right now?
I usually have a novel and one or two (or more) poetry books on the go at any one time. I recently finished Dervla McTiernan's acclaimed The Ruin – a gripping detective novel set in the west of Ireland where I'm from. It was a real page-turner, so I've just started the sequel 'The Scholar'. In our current circumstances, it is somehow comforting to be amongst Irish names and places on the pages – it takes me home when I can't be there physically.
I'm also reading Paul Munden's brilliant poetry collection Analogue/Digital – "the four corners of the earth/ cradled in your palm/ like an all-purpose gadget" (from the poem 'A New and Correct Map of the World') is quite an apt description of the book itself. It is a series of startling revelations enveloped in inspired eloquence. If you want to fall in love with language all over again, read this.
I am simultaneously slowly savouring Felicity Plunkett's divine new poetry collection, A Kinder Sea, which resonate deeply, for its exploration of loss, its liminal beauty and its love affair with the ocean. "Separated, alone at sea/ for the ten lunar months/ it takes to make a child,/ you discover grief/ like someone diving into a dark/ envelope of undersea rock/ to find a dream's bones."
Meanwhile I am also currently thoroughly enjoying Melinda Smith's ingeniously innovative, highly entertaining, vitally important and deliciously, outrageously feminist poetry collection, Listen, Bitch, which features design translation by Caren Florance. Here is one of it's quieter moments: "and who's to say she did not/ take up, with relish, a pair of Tim's scissors/ and stab and stab, rending the membranes/ (those pale lady-veils), releasing the stinging/ pungence of witch-rage".
A book you loved reading at a child
Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass – a combined edition gifted to me by my beloved Aunt Minnie prompted an imaginative epiphany for me as a child. I will admit that I had always been a dreamer, only partly present to the real world (and I still have one foot in the world inside my head most days), but this book set me off on many wild goose chases through the rabbit-hole-ridden local sandhills, so desperately wanting to find that Alice's magical Wonderland. There was always that delicious conundrum of whether you would choose the 'DRINK ME' potion to shrink or 'EAT ME' cake to grow bigger – not to mention all sorts of sage advice, like the Duchess's: "Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."
A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend
I have gifted Eleanor Hooker's glorious poetry collection A Tug of Blue on more than one occasion. It is mesmerisingly, hauntingly beautiful and lusciously inventive. When I want to point someone to one of the many exciting things that are happening in Irish poetry right now, I send them here: "On my father’s side/ I am part fish./ When I am dead,/ return me to water./.../That part of me/ which is raven, on/ my mother’s side,/ will submit." (from the poem 'Ablution').
A book you have read more than once
Anthony Doerr's first novel, About Grace, is a book I will return to over and over – not only for its extraordinary story, but for the poetic beauty of its language and its innate wisdom: "All month the ice muttered and howled and whistled. The trees echoed back and forth among themselves. Taken collectively, the sound was of deep wounding, of winter inexorably taking the life out of things."
The impossibility of the central character's protective love for his daughter is heartbreakingly magnetising – a driving force through this captivating journey through nature and its formidable elements, loss, exile, longing and the saving grace of human kindness. Here is one of my favourite passages:
"Our entire bodies, flooded with water, are governed by electricity. Bring any two molecules close enough together and they will repel each other. We cannot ever touch each other, not really. We repel at a distance. Actual touch—real contact—is not possible. A fistfight, one person lifting another, even sexual intercourse—what you feel is only electrical repulsion, maybe a few thousand molecules sloughing off skin. Even our own bodies are not cohesive. Photons pass through our eyeballs, through the webbing of our fingers."
A book with personal resonance
Peter Boyle's exquisite book-length poem, Enfolded in the wings of a great darkness, which recently won the Kenneth Slessor Award for Poetry in the 2020 NSW Premier's Literary Awards, holds me utterly captivated every time I open it. Whenever I hear Peter read from it, I am moved to tears, brimming with the absolute joy of hearing language that transcends the page and transports us to the glimmering edge of everything we know to be real and beyond.
It is a breathtaking exploration of love, terminal illness, loss and reaching beyond the void: "a moment stretched to the size of the universe", "that we are guests here, that we are summoned — so little of what we are stays in the light", "What does it mean that I am able to offer you parts of myself that even I am unable to name", “Is it the light that emanates from the dead, all this we have no name for?” and "far from the steady light/ she cast, I am again/ descending/ the spiral staircase of the self/.../ stripped/ of all armature/ surrounded/ only by ancient/ bone-words how old/ this scent of aloneness."