Poet Eleanor Hooker from Dromineer, with Nenagh author Donal Ryan who launched her latest collection of work Ochre and Ash
International award winning author and Nenagh native Donal Ryan was on hand to launch the latest collection of poetry by Dromineer poet Eleanor Hooker in Lough Derg Yacht Club
Dr Christine O’Malley, MC for the evening, welcomed Mr Ryan and congratulated Donal on his recent Jean Monnet Prize for European Literature.
She reminded everyone that Donal was the first Irish writer to win this prestigious prize, awarded for his work From a Low and Quiet Sea, published in 2018 and translated into French by Marie Hermet.
Of Eleanor’s new collection, Ochre and Ash, Donal said: “Eleanor has created this new collection as a pillar to help all of us endure and prevail. Embedded within the lines of this, at once delicate and monumental work, encoded for posterity, is moment after moment of wisdom, generosity and saving beauty.”
Donal read the last verse from Eleanor’s poem, Interview with Honeybee as Poet: Breathe every breath. Regard the echo under siege/ it repeats the code. Leave distinguishing marks/Forget to miss. Startle empty corners with song/There is a name for every type of pain, but also/for every fragrant flower/elect your nomenclature/Listen to him laugh, as you drag the devil by his tail.
“They are fighting words and this is the work of a warrior, a writer with no fear on the battleground of our terrible, complex, destructive, glorious humanity, a writer poised, primed, attuned to the singular frequency of the forgotten, the occluded, the abused.
“This poet feels beneath her the feet the ‘bodies of ten thousand naked sorrows/bump the ice, hold their infant breath/as they flow away from Erin and her bishop’.”
Mr Ryan said that our dim formless understanding of ourselves was here sublimated into wonder and beauty. The cyphers we use to give meaning to this inchoate and incoherent existence, are made here into music. He said that Eleanor coaxed from language the chords that chime with the deepest parts of us.
“We are as the subject in the poem Mending the Light, for whom ‘thoughts are clipped wings that cannot fly’, but with the poem's end, climb into her boat “to row toward a patch of joy”.
Mr Ryan said that at times he stopped reading and put the collection down and asked himself how it must feel to have written “something so perfect as this”.
“At times I paused my reading because I found myself turned gently but insistently by Eleanor’s poet’s voice and her nurse’s hand toward a well of sorrow I find difficult to contemplate.
“In the poem Eating the Earth, Eleanor tells us of a patient in Intensive Care and I stopped again to consider and bask in the hope that Eleanor evinces through her heart-lifting insistence on beauty, her unwavering belief in goodness, the undying light of wonder, of love that shines through her eyes into ours.
“In Christmas Flight this question is asked: will there also be singing?/Yes, there will also be singing/And be assured, that celestial body/our sun, will heave her coals daily/above the horizon, her dawn ablaze/My love, our world has not ceased to enchant.
“These are songs of water, songs of earth, of bees, of womanhood, of motherhood and childhood, of friendship, of the dead and the living. These are songs of departure and songs of home; there is Gortmore, Dromaan Harbour, Drominagh, here is Dromineer and the curve of Youghal Bay, there, in her son William’s dream, is Eleanor’s friend George coming up the lane from Rhynskaheen drawing a black case behind him.
"Eleanor Hooker, nurse, mother, lifeboat helm and one of the great poets of her generation, takes on her shoulders the burden of lives not hers, helps them to endure and prevail. With her gift she sanctifies them and saves them. Eleanor, we are all in your debt for the gift of this collection. It’s my privilege to be here to speak of it, to read aloud its gleaming lines, to hold it up and to commend it to you with all my heart."
Eleanor said she was deeply touched by Donal’s kindness and his extraordinary praise for her book.
“It’s every poet’s dream to have their work considered so thoroughly and so generously by a writer they hold in such high esteem. Donal’s words are encouragement to go to my desk. They are a signal to keep writing,” she said.
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