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Sandgames
June 2000


A Taste for Hemlock

Michele Vassal

ISBN: 978-1-907056-99-4

Page Count: 88

Publication Date: Monday, October 24, 2011

Cover Artwork: Michèle Vassal


About this Book

'A Taste for Hemlock' is a mystical journey of transmutation birthed in the crucible of cultural dychotomy. Grounded in myths and storytelling, Michèle Vassal's vision is uncompromising, incisive, and laden with a rich painterly sensuality. In this book, she unravels, with honesty and sensitivity, the golden thread that runs through personal and collective memory, honouring both the frailties and beauty of our humanity.

"Michèle Vassal has the rare gift of turning poetry into music. Each elegant, spare, melodic verse lingers in the mind like a beautiful song,"  Ferdia McAnna


Author Biography

Originally from the Ubaye Valley in the French Alps, half-way between Provence and Piedmont, Michèle Vassal moved to Ireland in her late teens. 

In 1999, she won the Prize for a First Collection at Listowel Writers' Week, since then her poems have been appeared in many journals and anthologies and she is frequently invited to read her work at festivals and events in Ireland and abroad.

Her two collections - Sandgames (2000) and A Taste for Hemlock (2011) are both published by Salmon Poetry.

Some of her poems have been adapted to music, most notably by legendary Skid Row guitarist Jimi Slevin and acclaimed Irish singer/songwriter, the late Martin Egan.
She is also an artist and has designed CD and book covers. 

She currently lives near Bantry (Ireland), with her husband, the piper/harper Brendan Ring.  They are currently working together on some recordings using traditional Irish instruments and contemporary verse.
 
Her poems can be found in The Cork Literary Review (issues 4,5,6 and 16), Podium 3, Samhlaich Chairri, Cùm, The Stinging Fly, Books Ireland, The Kerry Anthology, Poets for the Millenium, The Sunday Tribune (New Irish Writing), Leaves, Fish, 10k Poets, Mslexia, Cosmos Review, The Café Review, Gloom Cupboard, Bare Hands, Patte de Chat, The French Literary Review, A Journey in Poetry, Dogs Singing: A Tribute Anthology, Blue Max, Poetry Bus, Even The Daybreak: 35 Years of Salmon Poetry, Poetry Monthly International, The Sea, The Irish Examiner, Visions, On the Banks.

She received 1st prize at Listowel Writers' Week and was shortlisted for the Hennessy/Tribune awards, New Irish Writing. 

She has also been shortlisted in French for ‘La Fureur du Noir’ and in English (Fish Crime Fiction), for her criminally-minded short stories.


Read a sample from this book

Anam Cara

a pink moon is rising
and I am back
and your hair is the snaking bark of elder
and your skin is as sweet as spring's first milk
as it has always been
don't talk
let me unravel you
instead
let me undo your storms
into
soft ribbons of rain
let me
lick your blooded wounds
let me be
your quickening pulse
the shiver of your hand
on the curve of my back
let me be you
again
don't talk
I am back
      I am back
           to you
like the wave to the ocean
like the sap to the earth
I am back
risen from my bed
of stones and bones
risen from the blood soaked grass
risen from the ashes of gorse fires
I am back to you
back to stretch the shadows
and shatter the night
and spin the day green
don't talk
I am back


South

and the soft wings
of our days were pinned
by mauve crocuses and violet grapes
to saffraned Thursday afternoons
when rivulets of lemon light
coursed down the sepia
slopes of le Champs du Fada.

      grated chocolate on crusty bread
      lemonade  in glass bottles and
              Djidji l’amoroso

              my moorish love

his laugh           a bursting pomegranate
his skin             spiced caramel and  apricot
his eyes             the jet pips we spat at the sun

            wanted to be a sea captain
 
small moss altars
under the pine tree, by the springs
three juniper berries, a beige mushroom
Sainte Vierge, faites qu’il m’aime
a round white stone, a jay’s feather

            pour toujours

we devoured the turquoise sky
we were sleek as blades of grass
we were golden as October’s larches
we were twelve 

               South



Because he was my only son

I told him - I gave you the blood of the heroes of Ulster
redder than the heather on the Mount of Sorrows
and I gave you the warring spirit of the gallowglass
and their flaxen hair bleached by northern tides

and at night when he slept
I whispered in his ear

- see the yarrow and the meadowsweet
they’re yours to make a fragrant bed
see the long horned cattle, white as milk
they’re yours for the finding of a wife
see the harp of willow and silver strings
it is yours for the casting of spells
see the harness and the foaming steed
see the knave see the mail 
see the spear    the skieve and the bow
see the skene   the axe and the claymor
they’re yours for all your victories
they’re yours for all my sorrows

because he was my only son I didn’t tell him
- I gave you  Suibhne’s  eyes that see
only darkness in the crystal of the Swillly’s waters 
but are blind to the quicksilver leap of the salmon
and I gave you Suibhne’s crazed mind 
more twisted than the blackthorn on the Hill of the Hag 
sadder than a mother mourning the death of her only child
and I gave you Suibhne’s mouth that speaks only foolishness
and is forever keening with hungry wolves

and at night when he sleeps
I whisper in his ear
     son of Ulster
     son of Suibhne
     son of mine
see the yarrow in your flaxen hair
see the hounds see the crow
see the furrow on my brow
they’re yours for all your victories
they’re yours for all my sorrows


Note: A skieve is a quiver and a skene/scian, a type of dagger.


Poems Copyright © Michèle Vassal, 2011


Reviews

Reviews for A Taste For Hemlock:
 
This is a book of consequences, but it is also a book of consequence, it matters.
     Martin Egan  (multi-platinum selling songwriter)

By far the best and most challenging collection of poems by a poet issued in 2011 is Michele Vassal's, 'A Taste For Hemlock' (Salmon Poetry), with a cover by the author. Here is a European sensibility charging through the conventional staidness of much Irish contemporary work. It is richly to be hoped that this book receives the critical attention and promotion that it deserves; a book without decent promotion behind it by its publisher can often sadly wither and die. Ask for this book in bookshops or chase it up online. 
Fred Johnston, Western Writers' Centre 

The author of A Taste for Hemlock is not just sensual but uninhibitedly sensuous, as anyone who has plucked les fleurs du mal must be…Sharp, clever, funny, wonderfully evocative and with more hard-won wisdom than most, this is one of the 2011’s best collections of poetry....There’s a Baudelairean sensibility and aesthetic at work in A Taste for Hemlock, a delight in and of the senses, a savouring and appreciation of all that the wide world has to offer, and the bitter flavour attendant on wisdom. There’s also an understanding that the brightest moment of an object’s life, whether that be an animal, plant or fruit, or even a human, is just before the turning point of decay or a bruise; but that this is cyclical and to be anticipated is one of our consolations for loss… 
Alan Garvey, Gloom Cupboard 

A Taste for Hemlock, is a mystical journey of transmutation birthed in the crucible of cultural dichotomy. Grounded in myths and storytelling, Michèle Vassal’s vision is uncompromising, incisive, and laden with a rich painterly sensuality.  In this book, she unravels, with honesty and sensitivity, the golden thread that runs through personal and collective memory, honouring both the frailties and beauty of our humanity. Each section, indeed each poem is like a way-station in the development of the human spirit enduring and then emerging from incredible adversity into true identity and ability in all its different guises. It has been said that beauty has nothing to do with being pretty. This book bears that out completely.  And it still manages to be mythic, absorbing and beautiful.
Martin Egan 

Michele Vassal has the rare gift of turning poetry into music. Each elegant, spare, melodic verse lingers in the mind like a beautiful song. 
Ferdia McAnna (Writer and Film Director)

The title poem “A Taste for Hemlock” is  a flawless sequence of short verse. It distils the complex, the communal drive to inevitable death at the end of a systemic melancholy thread.  “Defining desire and death,” a conceptual, moveable verse, disperses its acquired wisdom beyond the dull ache of long pain, above the throb of ritualistic grief. The verdant background of the book cover, the glistening cerulean undertones understate pure, passionate, pleasure. 
Nadine Sellers, Last Known Nest

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