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Long-distance Swimmer

Dorothy Molloy

ISBN: 978-1-907056-21-5

Page Count: 60

Publication Date: Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cover Artwork: Carrie Herries

About this Book

Long-distance Swimmer is a strange and moving collection of poems by Dorothy Molloy, who died in 2004.  The poems were inspired by experiences in her life in Spain and Ireland as well as by her wide reading and her need to explore, for herself and others, the mysteries of connections and separations, the paradoxes of life and love.  It contains many remarkable and passionate poems.

Author Biography

Dorothy Molloy was born in Ballina, Co. Mayo in 1942.  She studied languages at University College Dublin, after which she went to live in Madrid and Barcelona.  During her time in Spain, she worked as a researcher, as a journalist and as an arts administrator.  She also had considerable success as a painter, winning several prizes and exhibiting widely.  After her return to Ireland in 1979, she continued painting but also began writing poetry. 

Her first collection, Hare Soup, was accepted by Faber and Faber, but Dorothy contracted cancer and died ten days before its publication.  The papers she left after her death contained enough unpublished poems for two further books, which have been assembled by her husband, Andrew Carpenter. The first of these posthumous collections, Gethsemane Day, was published by Faber and Faber in 2007.  This volume, Long-distance Swimmer, is the final collection of her work.

Read a sample from this book

The golden retriever grieves for her mate

The hooded crows roost early now,
November trees are black.
The sun goes down at 4 p.m.
and leaves a blood-stained track.

My antelope, my darling, my gazelle.

We calm her with valerian
and drops of chamomile,
infuse the roots of heliotrope
to soothe her for a while.

My antelope, my darling, my gazelle.

His last night was a rasping breath
that laboured up the stairs
and filled the house, and lodged behind
her sleepless eyes and ears.

My antelope, my darling, my gazelle.

She leans her head against our knees,
she follows us to bed
and lies stretched out upon the floor
as if she, too, were dead.

My antelope, my darling, my gazelle.


Review: "Femininity, family, pilgrims and pagans" by Selina  Guinness, The Irish Times, Saturday January 9th 2010

THE PUBLICATION of Long-Distance Swimmer marks the completion of Dorothy Molloy's oeuvre , as announced by her widower, Prof Andrew Carpenter, in his preface to this third collection.

Reading Molloy can be a strangely anachronistic experience, not just because her three collections have been published posthumously. Her themes recall Plath's Ariel; women tend to swim against a gynecological under-tow in both poets' work. Where Plath's psychodrama negotiates the father, Molloy's negotiates the mother; where Plath has Lazarus, Christ and the Tarot, Molloy has saints, icons, and herbalism; Molloy's familiars are her cats and dogs, Plath's are crows and bees. These comparisons may appear crude, yet Molloy's vocabulary too springs from Plath's era: "tennis club hops", "fizz and pop" and "hocus-pocus" appear in poetry where the loss of innocence is usually sudden and brutal. With rhymes such as "commet / dammit", "neck / heck" and nursery-rhyme metres, Molloy's cautionary tales (often set in Spain and France where she spent much of her early adulthood) are rarely subtle but they can be intensely effective, particularly when her narrative has a contemplative focus as in this alliterative game:

We have lost our bearings
in this atrium of leaf, branch,
twig and trunk.
We cannot find the star-blaze
where the six paths meet. Behold,
I send you forth with your beloved
son. Blinded,
I wait till you disappear over the brink. (Tinderbox)

Several poems in this collection reprise others elsewhere but Molloy has been well-served by her editors; few read as drafts. A forthcoming study by Dr Gonzales Arias should shed light on the recurring stories in her work.

Review: Books Ireland No. 317, December 2009

Very sadly, Dorothy Molloy died a few years ago, ten days before the publication of her first book. Since then another posthumous volume has appeared and what we are no considering is a final assembly of her poems. By the way, Molloy was also a painter of note as I can attest from visiting her memorial exhibition. We are lucky to have her poems preserved and Long-distance Swimmer is a delight from start to finish. Above all Molloy is an elegant writer, a  term some may mistakenly equate with superficial as if truth lies in crudeness. Her elegance is grace, her ability to be playful and serious simultaneously, to recognise the profound in the casual. Keats was not the only poet to be half in love with death, which has been linked as a theme in a triad completed by love and the passage of seasons as comprising the wellsprings of poetry. She is in fact nearer to that other rightly renowned Romantic, Shelley, in that many of her poems presage or imply the end of things. We cannot date the composition of all these poems but whether they are from the time of her illness (as a number must) or much earlier is not really the point; what matters is how they evoke timor mortis, the gaping grave. The famous definition of courage as grace under pressure is displayed to perfection here. Molloy lived for a while in Spain and one of her poems here, more a celebration than an elegy, evokes or rather unravels the life of Lorca, the clues being his first name Federico and the death knell of his assassination. Other poems capture the chilly stateliness of England's Gothic cathedrals or dwell on early Irish saints. But Molloy's poems are never quite what they seem, they reveal their secrets slowly while never seeking shelter in gratuitous obscurity. They demand and warmly repay rereading. To echo Auden, the Irish vessel is drained once more of poetry with the passing of Dorothy Molloy. 

Review: First Flush in Books Ireland No. 316, November 2009

The late Dorothy Molloy was born in Ballina, county Mayo, in 1942. After studying languages in UCD she went to Spain and spent some years there. As journalist and arts administrator, she won prizes for her painting. In 1979 she returned to live in Ireland where she also took up poetry. Her first collection, Hare Soup, was published posthumously in 2007 by Faber as she died of cancer before it went to print. Among her papers were found enough material for two other collections which have been collated by her husband, Andrew Carpenter. The second, Gethsemane Day, was published by Faber, while the third and final collection - Long-distance Swimmer - has been undertaken by Salmon. Like her other collections, the poems reflect her experiences in Spain and Ireland. This makes the poems personal but they deal with themes that we can all relate to as they are the stuff of everyones life from family, friends and love to death, loss and memory. She writes with passion but her poems have a light side too as in "Carlitos Gonzalez Martinez makes a desperate bid for freedom" about her attempts to give a pudgy teenager some exercise.

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