Page Count: 110
Publication Date: Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Cover Artwork: Design & Artwork: Ray Glasheen Design
About this Book
‘Feeney’s poems have a pounding physical presence yet they run away with the mind.’
‘Elaine Feeney is a poet for today—a bold, direct voice unafraid to speak to global politics past and present, to men, to Ireland, to the multi-edged experience of being woman, body, mother, daughter, worker. In Rise, Feeney unabashedly excavates personal and political trauma and experience with a frank tenderness and a mighty imagination, her signature scalpel-like lines boldly laying open the many-storied private worlds of the poet’s mind. A poet of deep intelligence, who implicitly understands the interconnectedness of everything, in Rise Feeney graciously maps out those connections for us. Whether walking through Dublin or lying on an operating table, imagining herself a Degas dancer or arguing in a Belfast bar, Feeney’s empathic and honest verse is both a documentation of and a transgressive counter-narrative to the accepted “norms” around her. Audacious, rhythmic, and brilliant, this collection is a triumph, con rming what many of us already know—that if anyone can open our eyes to the world, it’s Elaine Feeney.’
‘In the jumbled up world and words of a near-death experience, Elaine Feeney has found the perfect pitch for her new profound poetry. She continues to explore the fragility of now, but she never loses sight of the inhumanity of our recent past, as in ‘Harvest’, which relates to the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, or in the state’s treatment of women in ‘History Lesson’ and ‘Wrongheaded’. Feeney really de es what we know to be the formal look of a poem and her risk-taking and courage certainly pays off. In Rise she wields endless poems of resistance and vigour.’
‘Elaine Feeney is the freshest, most engaging, and certainly the most provocative poet to come out of Ireland in the last decade... a very important Irish voice.’
‘Her poetry is a full-blooded assertion of womanhood with no holds barred and de nitely no apology.’
‘Extraordinary... in the world of Kate Tempest meets Warsan Shire and we’ll throw in Tom McIntyre for the rural in uences... Brilliant.”
'Out of a bog of Dylan, Degas, & Heaney, up from the wizened path of female poeisis that once stretched, miserly, between Dickinson’s solitude and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, rises Elaine Feeney, with poems that tell history like the gossip it really is, giving body to a world of moments that in this late age still struggle to be told. Reading RISE has resurrected my sense of sound, of the dignity of all labor, and the mystic, enervating work of motherhood and girlhood and even rhyme. I’m so grateful for it.'
Elaine Feeney is an award-winning writer from Galway. Rise is her third full poetry collection following Where’s Katie? (2010) and The Radio was Gospel (2014), all published by Salmon. She published her first chapbook, Indiscipline, with Maverick Press in 2007. Feeney’s work is translated into over a dozen languages and is widely published. In 2016, Liz Roche Company commissioned Feeney to write for a national production to witness and record through dance, film and narrative, the physical experience of being a woman and bodily choice in Ireland. Entitled Wrongheaded, a film of the same name, directed by Mary Wycherley, accompanies the production. It premiered at Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival and was shortlisted for London’s Underwire Film Festival Prize and Bucharest Dance Film Festival Prize 2017. It is currently touring internationally. Feeney has just finished both a pilot comedy series, The Fannypack, with writers Aoibheann McCann and Aoife Nic Fhearghusa, which was highly commended by BAFTA, and her first novel, SIC[K]. She intends to take a break now and perhaps keep bees or make furniture.
For readings, interviews or review copies contact email@example.com
Read a sample from this book
night so dark the clouds were
coming down on us
and she said
we can cut them back with scissors
and a day so black the night was
and she said
we can slice it with this knife
alive I have one
in my apron pocket
and all the while of tumbling
day to night to day to night
and the child in her belly
would too be safely sliced
to a thick fog
of the world a suet of activity
a sludge they think world
resembles womb but it doesn’t
there is no such thing as womb
there is woman and organ
uterus brain lung skin
heart they can
do good or
sometimes they can kill her
till you all know this
we will carry sharpened
blades in our apron pockets
When the fourth doctor said
your son is an egg cracked by a hammer
I thought how no-one makes an
you heard the vicious
as a terrible screaming
so now darlings
let us break everything up
(like she did to a life’s work)
I offer you this
crack is needed to be born
ed is somewhat unfixable
therefore let us settle on the
In Montmartre with Degas
Who owns these hips these awful saucer over-lacquered eyes
and abandoned pink-jellyfish-on-the-rock lips this harsh-one-layer-mono
does nothing for my double chin but you already know that
I’m no ballet dancer my delusions a smelting loss|love me ever on parole
but that mendacious muff and wiggle-butt is way off stuff it
down your tight pants I note though how a citrine sun makes me smile
and I softly come at midnight once in a while on Beaujolais
and someone’s hard hands to roll up my dried tiny tobacco leaves
leaves a yellow after-stain to my teeth your fingers crunch-roll it
like when I was much younger and could pivot like a dancer
but you never believe that story though I’ve told you a thousand times
like this stinking oily fish on the zaffre and white enamel dish is rotting in the sun
behind the Louvre doors I lie nude on the furs and wax coats
stinking of musk and man and dead and fowl and what
is past and to come is only the rapid shortening of breaths
and more certain of my last escape as I am left on your canvas wobblyfull
and whole I keep thinking I should walk out or walk back
The Stone Age began around 10,000 years before Jesus came
and made the Christians.
There were others too. Gods. Ages. Stones.
In 2010, a man tells me I shouldn’t wear purple tights if
I want to be middle management.
It’s all about impressions and right now you’re giving off a purple
kind of flowery one.
Same with tattoos and piercings. Rotten teeth.
I keep the purple tights on my curved legs. I have no rotten teeth.
He keeps power. Mostly in his pants. He has a mouth of silver fillings.
My mother was born in a three-bedroom terrace in 1955.
She wanted to be the cowboy with a cap gun on the street,
She wasn’t mad about the injians.
She never knew her history and it drives her mad.
She’s a furious reader.
Taught me to be a furious reader. Read us endless stories.
Even stories that matched our birth dates.
They were my favourite. Her voice growing tired.
People began to farm and lay down roots and make cheese and
they say the first farm men were very clever men,
knew how to balance staying beside the sea and not getting wet.
My Nana brings digestive biscuits into the
London air raid shelter night after night.
Somewhere near St. Thomas’s she said.
She calls her first son Thomas. My Dad.
He teaches me three things;
always drive into skid marks on an icy road.
He is the most important person in the world.
And when I’m not a cunt, I’m not too bad at all.
Honestly. All things considered.
Nana is glad of the break from slopping out shit buckets
in the hospital.
She’s not a hundred per cent sure who’s dropping bombs
but she likes the evening company. They sing songs.
She loves to sing.
Her mother died when she was four from a burst appendix.
She’s never been very sure of anything since except how
she loves to sing.
And how very very tall and very handsome her father was.
She liked to drink brandy and smoke the odd cigarette.
I spent one full hour convincing some friends that women
said poems in Ireland before
Eavan Boland. The women friends are suspicious.
They have English degrees.
It’s difficult to remember who first sailed around the
Cape of Good Hope,
or of Storms, Diaz or Da Gama? But man’s stealing stuff
takes a Frankensteinian turn.
Or at least now some ass is keeping a logbook of all the
bastarding things they can do to others.
This would appear to be a good thing.
Silk and spice being basic human needs,
like diamonds and bread and the internet and hoarding.
We can say for sure that Magellan proved the world was round even if;
a woman is laying under a sycamore tree
and watches a dappled grey horse gallop towards her,
steely long legs appear all of a shot, not making sense,
she is a long time pregnant, her nipples thick and dark.
Soon she will give birth, she knows the earth is round
as she sees the horse over her large belly.
It is all too sudden. It must be a ball.
And besides, Magellan died through his experiment.
But this is just a technicality.
She keeps this information to herself.
She doesn’t believe in the many of their any gods.
And besides, she doesn’t want to die for knowing stuff.
Christopher Columbus was a great man.
In the small salmon bedroom of her terrace house,
they put chloroform over my other Nana’s nose on one
of her eleven labours.
This child survives. She’s thankful for not losing another child.
Do your duty. You must do your duty.
It is sometime in the 60s, she’s not too sure. She was
collapsed, she tells me.
Skip through Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, straight to the Jesuits.
We are all Roman Catholic. It says it on the school door.
We’ve cleaned up ‘the abuses’ with PR machines as
immovable as Croagh Patrick. We will ruin you in this town.
Protestantism allowed a randy king marry a younger woman,
stands for nothing but leaving your toaster out on the sink.
There was never really a Civil War in Ireland.
A few brothers had a fight, down in Cork or West Cork,
or actually I think it was Mayo.
Give it five minutes class coverage at most.
Actually I don’t think you need to teach it at all, there’s confession
Michelangelo, Petrarch, Raphael, Dürer, now they were all great men.
I could go on. And on. And on. And I will.
2015 is the first year I read a comprehensive list of female
Renaissance artists, Sofonisba Anguissola was a friend
of Michelangelo. Bet he copied her.
The Industrial Revolution was a great time, lots of great inventions,
made great by the Agricultural Revolution, lots of food to make
the men great.
Many women worked in the factories,
I don’t know their names.
They only teach about a Spinning Jenny.
And I think this is named after an ass.
In 2007 a doctor tells me I have a brain clot,
I am pregnant, I ask him of the option of a termination.
He tells me that I will change my mind when I am a mother.
‘I am a mother,’ I say.
I heard three women’s names mentioned in my History Class.
Nano Nagle, Constance Markievicz and Mary Robinson.
I try to imagine what they would do.
My first boyfriend punches me seven times on Shop Street
and we end up in the hospital because he puts his fist
through the window of a shop my uncle works in
(bad coincidence). But I am in terror in case anyone
has recognised me. The shame.
In 1927 women are banned from sitting on juries in Ireland.
History lessons. In 1935 contraception is banned in Ireland.
The hospital give me a card for domestic violence abuse victims.
I am embarrassed at how little they know about me.
And how much I can raise a man’s temper.
And my poor ability to mind my men.
I put the card in the bin and withstand another year
I cannot mind my men. I keep this secret. For now.
I think of Mary Robinson again. I feel a bit of a shit.
It will take a decade before I realise I do not rise temper
They rise all by themselves. This should be the first lesson.
Mussolini’s rise to power was made easy by the colour of their shirts,
the Treaty of Versailles and his March on Rome.
I meet Ariana Reines for the first time in 2015. We drink
ginger cocktails in a bar in Copenhagen, I promise I will
use the word cock more in my work.
I still cannot come up with a proper name for my own
cock area. I like the word cunt, but I like to use it angrily
at those I hate.
I am blown away by Ms. Reines,
and how the paper won’t refuse her ink. I only wish I met
The 1916 Rising was neither a rebellion nor a revolution;
it was a thing apart entirely.
It was a glorious thing, with god and glory and rising.
And look at us all now.
I ask my class why 1916 makes them happy?
They tell me it’s better than being fucking English.
Although a few of them are English, but they like being Irish too.
The men often signed the Solemn League and Covenant in blood.
I correct the use of the word fucking as a race adjective.
I have never taught with an openly gay teacher.
Medieval times meted out some cruel punishments, most of which
are still being perfected and used in the world today.
Though most kids will come away thinking knights are cool
and castles had great shooting windows and the past is the
past and The Enlightenment, oh how enlightened it made us all.
Particularly the men, who in turn could chose what to do with
enlightening the women, and all the other races they had to
deal with too.
Savita Halappanavar dies in October 2012. I cannot stop crying.
2017, My London Bombing Nana is dead and the
Salmon Bedroom Nana is trying hard to remember.
All poems © copyright Elaine Feeney 2017
Article: "The Rise and Rise of Elaine Feeney" by Rita Ann Higgins (July 2017)
It's no exaggeration to say that Elaine Feeney’s latest collection, Rise, is a tour de Force from the get go.
The opening poem, Whisht, epitomises one of the threads that weave around this collection. In Whisht the narrator asks herself, would she stay quiet hold her tongue. It was never going to happen, not anytime in the entire collection was Elaine Feeney going to hold her whisht;
Plath and Beckett might have echoes here but Feeney has presence and poise. She weaves her own threads. Her life experience, her in-depth knowledge of being on the verge of life, on the verge of death.
In some poems the inner voice of criticism comes out. The parental nag, The voice that can damage. The unkind voice that destroys a young girl’s confidence.The voice that returns when the body starts to cave in;
A poem so powerful that quoting a small piece of it like that does it no justice at all.
In code, the narrator drifts between unconsciousness and real time; or banana in the school bag time when he or she can't actually let go. This is slow time when the brain won't engage at the rate required of it. The things you might think of when you are drifting into another realm, when you are swimming through gravy, when life is slipping away. When the trip switch in your head gets damp and things are no longer what you think they are. Then she turns it all into art and the power of her voice starts again. In poem after poem she incites revolution. I want to be in her gang. I want to be part of the ‘Rise’ battle-cry.
There is no sameness about this riveting collection. The narrator’s voice is fresh and assured, page after page.
The mothers are missing their sons, are missing their daughters, are letting their babies go. They are being forced to let their babies go. The hurt cuts deep, it’s vital to Feeney to give a voice to the women who have been forgotten by their families, by their church, by their society. These poems incorporate the banished women of Ireland and their sins, and their children of sin. She weaves part of her collection around a series of monologues, powerful dramatic monologues that would not be out of place on stage as well as on the page. I learned recently that some of the poems have been dramatized.
In her poems she continues to scrutinise how society has given a raw deal to women. The shades of meaning are not there as a cushioning, these are hard hitting poems, and God do we need the voice of Feeney at this time in Ireland.
Feeney’s territory is spread over a very broad canvass, there is nothing limiting about the way Elaine Feeney goes about giving a voice to the vulnerable, to the voiceless. She takes risks using idiom, dramatic lyric and a confident narrative. We feel safe with her in charge.
Many of these poems have a very complex interplay, at times this can be haunting. The ghosts are everywhere. The living are dead and the dead are living. I hate the living dead. They are nowhere, she says. The ghosts of Galway’s past, the ghosts of Tuam’s past. When you read Elaine Feeney, you get caught up in her storyline, her maze. At times she is herself lost but she’s always fighting to regain her footing. It’s a metaphor that runs through the collecting. She won’t lie down and she won’t shut up. And thank God for her strong feminist voice that towers over every page.
At times she goes with the succinct observations that build into something fiercely dramatic. Displacement might seem like its hers first, then she goes head on and tackles the displacement of others and that is another fork going through the collection.
She intersperses the personal, the political. The erotic, the upfront sexual without as much as a buy your leave, that takes courage.
Some poems are in a melancholic landscape. Is it real-time, is it drifting in and out of delirium, of unconsciousness? The strength of the poems holds up. The landscape is never sentimental. The strong Feeney voice is always there and sleep won’t come, not yet not for a long time yet.
RISE is a disturbing collection in that Feeney doesn’t at any time walk on egg shells. She is very assured, the narrators of her poems have confidence, and they don’t have second thoughts. We believe in them, we believe in her. Her presence in Irish Literature was never more vital.
Her anarchism is as palpable as her sly humour, the target is never missed.
Elaine Feeney’s voice in Rise is challenging, truthful and fearless.
She is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects that will in turn prove conflicting and unsettling. Make no mistake about it, this is not a tea and biscuit read. She kicks to touch any outside pressure that would by chance attempt to soften her nib. She says,
Throughout the collection, she chronicles the lives of women who have been disenfranchised by Catholic Ireland
The political consciousness is always there and it never interferes with her lyricism. She’s putting herself in a vulnerable position by taking on the sacred cows, in what is still to a great extent, Ireland of the squinting windows. She is a poet of our time and I salute her, for her honesty and her bravery.
Rita Ann Higgins, 2017
Ever since my first tentative steps into poetry, I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by people who consistently raise the bar. The Galway scene of the mid 2000´s which I was 'born into' was both supportive and healthily competitive. There was Kevin Higgins, Mary Madec, Lorna Shaughnessy, Stephen Murray and Dave Lordan to name a few. And I mean a few. And also there from the beginning was Elaine Feeney from just out the road, with a penchant for turning up at the regular readings at BK´s Wine Bar or Over the Edge in the Galway Library and roughing us all up with some carefully delivered wallops. In fact, if there are two words that are missing from the cover of her third Salmon Poetry collection, they are "Continue to".
Not since Brendan Kennelly´s The Man Made of Rain have I read such a vivid and raw tale of recovery. From the very first line of Hindering Hercules, three poems in, ("There´s nothing holy about dying on a hospital ward.") I´m ready to be taken on this trip. That this poem appears at the start of the book was either carefully planned, or a coincidental stroke of brilliance. It blows every brick out of the wall of reservedness that a reader might naturally hold onto until later poems. In the very next poem In the Way we hear a somewhat quieter, accepting voice "relieved that machines/ now speak for me / put me on guard/ in the middle of the / resuscitation bed". The line breaks are short, like measured breaths. A little calm before we are headfirst into Antaeus, who, according to Greek mythology, was invincible as long as he remained in contact with the earth. In her recovery, the poet leaving the bed, leaving the house "like a wheel free dinky / car tumbling" is that very risk when it could all go south. The coffee table becomes a coffin table and in turn it becomes another object to let go of. Line by line, we slide our shoulders under hers, prop her up and walk to the end of this poem with her.
This though is not merely a collection of recovery. Feeney picks up from her previous collection The Radio was Gospel in addressing her family with heartfelt poems such as Jack and Venturia Inaequalis - reminders of how precious time really is; a concept which, perhaps, in this latest book exudes gravity. For me though, The Harvest is the poem with which this book really bares its teeth. And I´d been waiting for it. As mentioned, in her previous collection Feeney demonstrates a remarkable variety and shift in her tone, subject matter and language; the poems coming quickly like jabs to test the distance and defense of the opponent. In this sense, Mass was the uppercut to land us on the canvas. In Rise, we have The Harvest to execute the same action: a brutal and ferocious piece of social commentary reflecting on one of Ireland´s darkest histories. You just have to read it to know.
A brushstroke of lyricism and headbutt of honesty: all in all, brilliant as both an achievement and a collection from Elaine Feeney and one which you should buy from Salmon Poetry.
Review: Rise reviewed by Des Kenny for The Galway Advertiser, Thursday 11th May, 2017
LAST YEAR marked the 35th anniversary of the founding of Salmon press, during which its incredible contribution to Galway's cultural life was fully celebrated. Those heady days of the eighties were brought back to mind when Rita Ann Higgins, Mary O’Malley, and Eva Bourke were given a platform to present their challenging poems to a bewildered, if generally receptive, audience.
It is heartening to see Salmon continuing this tradition by publishing such equally challenging poets as Sarah Clancy, Kerrie O’Brien, Dani Gill, and Elaine Feeney. That such poets continue to question our perceived (and comfortable ) boundaries is amply demonstrated by Rise, Elaine Feeney's third, and by far most ambitious and ground breaking, collection.
In the second poem, her impatience to get the ball moving surfaces: “I dressed myself in the morning’s hawkish cold,/lit by my neighbour’s hand torch in the field over./Early rise makes flickering reels on the curtain hem./I painted on my face shadows in circles,/as he fed grazing silage to the cow on her knees,/full as a winter barrel of rainwater./And me, willing hard to keep my powder dry,/or at the very list, today, hold my whist."
Her effort to “hold my whist” doesn’t last long. The next poem opens with a more despondent note “There’s nothing holy about dying on a hospital ward./ There’s nothing at all about it./There’s no worship or heroics about it.” Her near death experience unleashes her anger, but her husband calms her: “And I respect him. Only him, he has a quiet way to silence me with his love.”
From then on, Feeney's holds nothing back, her anger, fear, and vulnerability expressing itself forcefully as she tries to come to grips with her womanhood in a hostile and uncaring world, courageously exploring the English language in trying to make sense of it all. Her frustration in not achieving this, results in a series of angry poems, sometimes descending to the level of ranting, until she resolves her personal dilemma by discarding her vulnerability and facing her demons.
The final poem 'Rise' is a rallying call, and not just for herself or her gender: “rise the love in your bed/rise your husband/rise her husband rise your boss/and keep doing it/make them earn you/rise them out of it/rise yourself into it”. She finishes the poem and the collection with: “rise out of their history books and into your history/ write it down yourself/bring it with you/ even on the back of your hand to remind you?/it’s there rising”.
Rise is a courageous, honest, and generous collection, a rallying call for all humanity to surmount the barricades of our fears and to face them down. It deserves our close attention.
Article: Elaine Feeney writes about the inspiration for her poem "Roethke takes the boat to Ballinasloe" for The Poetry Society, London
“Your head will be well” – Elaine Feeney and the inspiration of Roethke in Galway
I rarely remember the actual physical act of writing a poem. Some take days, some years. I have eight edits of ‘Roethke takes the boat to Ballinasloe’ and the final draft was written in Neachtain’s pub, Galway, drinking Lucozade. Hungover. The poem hinges on anxiety and being off-kilter.
It’s part of a longer sequence I’m working on about Theodore Roethke’s visit to Inisbofin Island in 1960. It begins with the poem, ‘Getting the Priest for Roethke’, written in first person narrative of my friend and teaching colleague Kieran Day. Kieran originally influenced the poems after he once remarked, “Elaine, did I ever tell you about the time I had to wake the priest for Roethke? I was only about five years old.” And he motioned with his long, thin hand to show me where the top of his young head bobbed in the sixties. I geeked out. Kieran’s family ran the boarding house, now Day’s Hotel on Bofin, where Roethke stayed during his time there. Roethke was a guest of poet Richard Murphy on the island.
Eventually Roethke, accompanied by the aforementioned priest, left Bofin for time in a psychiatric hospital in the East Galway town of Ballinasloe. I grew up working with young horses and ponies and every October we would go the Ballinasloe Horse Fair to try selling our animals. I relate to Roethke’s sense of abandonment and loss as part inspiration for some inclinations in the poem. As a child, I was paralysed with fear by this hospital. My brothers would mock-threaten to leave me there after the fair, its grey façade and window bars. I was a distant and introverted child, and I thought this ‘Big House’ was an entirely conceivable living option for a young girl who made up stories.
The poem attempts to build quickly on the boat’s movement and the poet trying to steady himself, yet the poem ploughs on in a sort of undulation; Roethke’s caught in a looped memory of the priest called out to banish his Fear, the peaks and troughs, the up and down journeys to everywhere, to nowhere and back again. The journey of the pint to the mouth and to the counter again, the self-medication attempts. Time moves on. The floating bobbing boat and decaying fingernails lends itself to escape or decomposition of the self and the body. Time is the only definite.
At the poem’s conclusion, the orderly speaks and is more important than I originally intended, though I am fascinated by Roethke getting ‘out town for pints’. The orderly is a commanding figure in my opinion, unafraid and carefree and is not intimidated by the poet’s persona, whom he fondly calls, “Teddy”. Kieran Day told me he only addressed the poet as Mr. Roethke, but the orderly is uninterested in nonsense formality. The orderly plans for the darkness of winter by saving turf and it beckons a future. Sadly, there is no immediate planning for how Roethke’s sweating might be stopped. The mind isn’t always favourable to manipulation unlike the practical stacking of turf.
Tragically, Roethke’s death of a heart attack was while swimming in a friend’s pool and rumour has it this pool is now a Zen rock garden. Strange. More musings beckon.
Elaine Feeney’s poem ‘Roethke takes the boat to Ballinasloe’ is published in the Summer 2017 issue of The Poetry Review, Vol. 107, No.2.
Poetry reviews: great unmaskings and disappearing acts
... There are erasures and absences too in Elaine Feeney’s Rise (Salmon, €12), erasures which Feeney is determined to counteract. “I spent one full hour convincing some friends that women said poems in Ireland before / Eavan Boland”, she writes in "History Lessons". “The women friends are suspicious. / They have English degrees.” Feeney’s talky humour and chutzpah (see that verb in “said poems”) are naturally fitted to raising issues, including the Tuam mother and baby home in a poem which knows but will not listen to the instruction, “Close over the concrete slab, quickly, blank your thoughts, bless yourself.” ("The Harvest").
The book explores darker, more autobiographical areas, too, in poems about illness. The title’s response to trauma is an injunction: “surf the waves rise into them / ride out of them,” she tells her readers, and the verb is moreover a response to the centenary of the Easter Rising, an inheritance of which she is sceptical in "Oak," which declares, “I’d like to spend Easter 2016 / birdwatching on the Isle of Wight.”
Wrongheaded, In This Moment, Cardiff Dance Festival
As a non-expert in dance, one is always grateful when presented with work which boasts clearly defined narratives or objectives. This double-bill, presented at Cardiff Dance Festival, comprises two contrasting thirty-minute pieces whose aims are readily discernible. What is presented, however, is far from simplistic.
Wrongheaded, from the Liz Roche Company, takes as its subject the political battle over women’s control over their bodies, with particular reference to the intertwined influence of church and state in Ireland. It is based on a surreal, elliptical epic poem by Elaine Feeney, which comments on centuries of subjugation and complicity in subjugation. Her dramatic reading of it forms the soundtrack to the performance, alongside a subtle electronic score by Ray Harman.
The action begins in near darkness, with video images (courtesy of Mary Wycherley) projected on the floor of the performance area. Some of these seem abstract, some from nature, and some are of the performers themselves. The two dancers, Sarah Cerneaux and Justine Cooper, begin the piece in different areas of the stage, their movements laboured, seeming to operate under some unseen weight.
Clad in leggings and pastel-coloured blouses, they soon come together as a duet, sometimes working in close contact, sometimes interacting at a distance, but almost constantly in motion, reflecting the feverish tone of the poem if not its precise, intertwined testimonies and observations.
Throughout, one is struck by the feat of memory involved in performing such a complex and intellectually rigorous piece; let alone the dancing itself, which seems flawless. A number of moments stick in the memory: the point at which one woman has to crawl from underneath the apparently lifeless body of another, for example; the vomiting (well, nearly); the section, near the conclusion of the piece, where Stephen Dodd’s lighting design sees the dancers dramatically augmented by their shadows.
Wrongheaded is angry and sad, but somehow hopeful, in its depiction of strength and solidarity.
Laïla Diallo’s In This Moment, which follows, is equally clever, but more quietly contemplative in its intentions. Derived from a larger-scale piece entitled Countless Yellow Chairs, it is a rumination on the concept of time.
Casually dressed, Diallo begins her solo performance in a chair, playing out audio which outlines the history of the “moment” as defined by the movement of a shadow on the sundial (90 seconds, give or take). We are then plunged, for a long moment, into darkness and meditative silence.
The remainder of the piece comprises clearly defined segments. Diallo dances in her chair, seemingly struggling to escape; this section performed to a beautiful neo-classical score by Jules Maxwell. She then uses masking tape to construct a clock-shaped circle on the stage, giving examples, both live and in voice-over, of the subjectivity and relativity of our experience of the passing of time, before running around it until breathless.
In the most aesthetically, traditionally balletic sequence, she dons headphones, and dances fluently to sounds only she can hear; the audience is treated to choral music which may or may not correspond with her movements. Finally she returns to the chair, her movement seemingly freer this time.
If "Wrongheaded" is a visualised political poem, In This Moment is a visualised phenomenological essay. Both are striking pieces of work, intellectually rewarding and boasting moments of great beauty.
Liz Roche Company
Choreography/Concept: Liz Roche
Text: Elaine Feeney
Performers: Sarah Cerneaux, Justine Cooper
Liz Roche, Wrongheaded, Chapter, CDF17
There is nothing apologetic about the shockingly brutality in Liz Roche’s Wrongheaded which melds video, voice and movement to tackle the stark reality of women in the company’s home of Ireland.
The video on the floor of the theatre in Cardiff’s Chapter is the first exposition of the fierce and feisty spoken words of Galway poet Elaine Feeney; a fire-cracker delivery of vicious text that has emerged from the so many dark, heart breaking and sickening examples of women subjugated through their bodies commoditised, controlled and censored by the law and religious-dominated opinion.
The dance work has two players, although they are each give a virtual as well as corporal life through the near trance-making film from Mary Wycherley, played out to Feeney’s poetry. That poetry delves into a myriad of imagery, natural, traditional and symbolic which are interpreted in the movement, feeling and atmosphere created by the live dancers with lighting designed by Sinead Wallace and music from Ray Harman.
The experience is then repeated in real-time, real life, as Sarah Cerneaux and Justine Cooper lithely and powerfully evoke physical sickness and pain along with the inner trauma, despair and hopelessness wreaked by their gender, their fertility and their condition in Irish society. There are sections of great gentleness smashed against raw pain, desperation and minuscule drops of humour.
Of course it is not pleasant video, poetry and dance work to watch but the choreography is sharp and expressive, thrashing us with the narrative and revealing the savage beauty at its heart.
Okay, so I am a bloke – so I also accept I watch as an outsider.