Caitriona PalmerAuthor of An Affair with my Mother (Penguin)
Anne Fitzgerald was raised in Sandycove, County Dublin. She is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin and Queen’s University, Belfast. Her poetry collections are Swimming Lessons (Wales, Stonebridge, 2001), The Map of Everything (Dublin, Forty Foot, 2006), Beyond the Sea (Co. Clare, Salmon Poetry, 2012) and Vacant Possession (Co. Clare, Salmon Poetry, 2017).
In 2006 Anne founded Forty Foot Press, in addition to two School Publishing Houses, Monkstown Educate Together Press (MET Press, 2003) and Loreto Abbey Dalkey Press (LAD Press, 2004). She is a recipient of the Ireland Fund of Monaco Writer-in-Residence bursary at The Princess Grace Irish Library, Monaco. She teaches Creative Writing in Ireland and in America. Anne lives in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin.
For biography visit Forty Foot Press at www.fortyfootpress.com/anne-fitzgerald.html and on Facebook see www.facebook.com/FortyFootPress.2006/
Review: Vacant Possession reviewed by Hélène Cardona for Pratik: A Magazine of Contemporary Writing
Soul retrieval, deep healing
Anne Fitzgerald’s recent collection Vacant Possession (Salmon Poetry) is exquisitely crafted, a beautiful, heartbreaking and haunting read, which begs revisiting time and again. It opens with a stunning, hypnotic love poem which casts a spell and sets the tone, for this is, above else, a book about love:
From afar it comes like the smell of rain
in off the sea, with an urgency of waves
breaking, you weaken at the thought
of it happening again, as naturally as heat
making its presence felt on the globe
of your palms, you spread your fingers
wide as water between two bodies
of land, trace boundaries, sea stacks ‘n’ coves
on the bend of where paradise might
be your judgement clouds like a compass
that’s let moisture in, devoid of magnetic
field you falter, give way to the rhythm
of waves as though sirens in pursuit of kelp
and driftwood like lovers on a beach.
In poems about redemption and a love that transcends all, Fitzgerald works to reconcile the world she knew with the world she lives in. She writes about finding her compass, her mother, her identity. From “Finding Myself in Werburgh Street”:
Without Theseus thread of Adriane, nurse Gallagher
cuts the chord, registers me by her own hand,
every slope and ink incline a natural fabrication
of this twenty-six year old’s maiden name, who
didn’t comfort me as my first tooth breaks through,
hold me at night as my breath is given over to
coughing for the loss of you, or watch me not fall
down as one foot follows the other in a gait you’d
half recognise disappearing into a crowd years later.
Instead you commend me into the geometry of a life
you’d not foresee, all the while, wondering from a distance.
And from “Bellybutton”:
my first breath-cry
lines my lungs
with a dampness
will carry like
the pain of arrival
and your departure
into thin air
born like the memory
of mist falling
my innie pit
our belly to belly
is all that
of our attachment.
When witnessing her mother’s death, she mourns, “When whiteness does hold / the world as I know it is no more.” … “a blizzard / of disbelief / whitens my / world as / I knew it.”
The triumph of Vacant Possession is that Fitzgerald, against all odds, deftly and with unparalleled grace, rediscovers and repossesses the lost parts of herself. For this is poetry as shamanic work, soul retrieval, deep healing and testimony, as well as a searing indictment of a society where mothers and their children born out of wedlock have been prey at the hands of the Catholic Church.
Fitzgerald conducted astounding research. To quote her postscript, “From engagement with various State and Church agencies together with research conducted I can confirm that Éire’s Architecture of Containment thrives in matters pertaining to the release of Adoption Records in Twenty-First Century Ireland. A trinity of control and culpability pervades within the Catholic Church, the Irish Free State and its Religious Institutions specifically established to contain, to profit from and to manage the lives of those who bore children outside marriage and the little lives born outside of the bands of holy matrimony.”
At once lyrical and precise, Vacant Possession stands as witness, a heartfelt tribute to her mother and to all who underwent such fates. This is a powerful and necessary collection on the human condition that everyone needs to read.
Somewhere between Lexington and ParkI spot you, ever before our chance encounterat the Algonquin blossoms to obsession.
Lush with Dry Martinis and Manhattanswe relax into shadows of movement beforeice melts in to the arms of intoxication.
Paper boats released from the palmsset sail on the lake at Central Parkwhile the host is raised skyward in St. Patrick’s.
Geraniums on the windowsill catchevening photosynthesising, spreadsitself across the body of mahoganydining room table as if the Atlantic.Rays light up family photographson the mantle like could-be Broadwayicons facing just west of happiness.So, where does all our love go afteryou have gone, back over the mountainand downhill to the scent of sea.
Thing is, we havethe measureof one and other.
In certain lights youcan see it, likea doubt questioning
what is known.That slight resemblanceunmoors balance
suggests rumoursof othernessfor ease of saving face.
… Afterwards, for a few quidmore, Doogan leaves Eve’s day-old baby
in Temple Hill. Every All Soul’s, twohundred Lady Laverys appear in Doogan’s
palm like footed turf, from his Gracefor her to do-good, as she sees fit
with proceeds of two babas boundfor Amerikay…
to ecclesiastical ledgershe commends little
people bornoutside matrimony
Do you wishyou’d gone
for a backstreetjob above
in Hatch Street,or not been
caught off guardin the first
place. Insteadthis secret
birthing houseconfines us.
I am three hours as the crow flies
undetected for decades. The spitof you cannot be denied.
Yet truth-drops rub against lies,aggregates bound by secrecy
hardens as if lime, till I show upfalling through water like stone.
This review is taken from Stand 224, 17(4) December 2019 - February 2020.
— STELLA PYE Review
Vacant Possession, Anne Fitzgerald’s fourth collection, is a chronicle of love and loss. It is a fierce, yet quietly uttered, indictment of the Irish Catholic Church and State’s inhumane treatment of unmarried mothers; babies taken from them for a pittance and sold for profit. As Aiden Mathews states in his introduction, the book consists of ‘three trimesters of lyric poetry that conclude in the birth of a single solid volume’, yet there is also a crucial Requiem. Trimester one, the body of ‘self’, is reminiscent of Whitman in its exploration of the ‘body electric’. Because of their rhapsodic imagery these poems seem somehow innocent. In ‘Desire’:
…You colonise my thoughts
like twists of fallen away wishes...
...You are the squatter who claims
vacant possession of all that is in me.
‘Vacant possession’ alerts us to the oppositional elements of ownership and dispossession evident in this section and, indeed, throughout the collection. In ‘No Air’, we have:
‘You have bedded down my waking thoughts in a slumber so deep,’ while in ‘Blackout’,
we have: ‘Unlike fog thickening at sea through sounds of the horn you arrive unannounced.’ There are shades of Prufrock in ‘Myopic’, ‘... you arrive, spreading yourself slowly and deliberately across the evening’, and ‘Compass’ contains meta-poetic connotations of captivation: ‘Charmed by small refinements in your run-on lines’ – which do indeed run on.
Similes taken from the natural world pervade section two, which traces the deaths of Fitzgerald’s beloved adoptive parents. In ‘Come March’, a magnolia’s ‘folding and unfolding white petals’ are likened to ‘the sheet I shake creases from to spread over your body after you’ve gone’. And in ‘Saudade’ she writes: ‘And as you slip away love pours out of us like a river making for the sea.’
Fitzgerald’s ‘Postscript’ chronicles her attempts – thwarted by Church and State – to trace records of the first eighteen months of her life under the ‘care’ of the Religious Sisters of Charity. Trimester three is an exquisitely crafted shaming of those twin institutions.
In ‘Finding Myself in Werburgh Street’ she writes:
Not five minutes shy of two hours I lean into
a past of myself, as unrecognisable as a wild
pearl, iridescent and luminous as the shell itself
or my fingerprint smudged. Reading my birth
name given is like a foreign language forged
The poet’s notes contain a photocopied ‘Bill of Sale’ for a baby, signed by a nun, for the sum of £3. Trimester four, a single ‘Requiem for the Sold’, is not afterthought, but afterbirth, reparation for all sold babies everywhere.