Page Count: 95
Publication Date: Wednesday, September 01, 2021
Cover Artwork: “The Lady Vanishes” by Brian Kielt Oil and Charcoal on Canvas © Brian Kielt www.ungalleried.com www.briankielt.com
About this Book
Geraldine O’Kane’s anticipated first collection is an impactful introduction to a voice that is compassionate, vivid and courageous. The poems weave between spaces, timelines and identities bearing witness, most often personal, to the encroachment of violence, loss and traumatic events on places and relationships — home, mother, lover, community — that we rely on as our source of safety, while exploring the impact of this on the fine balance between good and poor mental health and how that effects everyday forays into new situations. Whether micro or sustained, Geraldine’s work showcases the power of poetry and art to enter as-yet-uncertain places and breath.
As a first collection Unsafe demonstrates the very considerable skills and talents of an up and coming poet who can employ the micro form and more expansive free verse form to equal effect. This poet can handle sensitive narrative, evoke memories, excavate a relationship, intimate the depth of mental pain, make incisive observations, or present the crux of a situation with the economy of a haiku —
of the divorce,
I was their shrapnel. (“While I Remember”)
Most of these poems appear to have grown out of lived experience and close attention, addressing themes such as childhood vulnerability, the fragile balance of relationships, domestic violence, loss and what remains and sustains. What gives these essentially domestic encounters enduring significance is their blend of the particular and the psychological. Geraldine O’Kane brings a concentration of awareness to her carefully weighed and weighted poetry: a distillation that is frank, tender and humane.
I started reading Unsafe and found I couldn’t stop. The honesty, the clear-eyed empathy in these poems is compelling. This is a collection of neatly crafted lyrics depicting the messy moments that make us who we are; some are funny, some shocking. All resonate deeply. Unsafe is a generous and haunting debut.
Susan Millar DuMars
“There is warmth and light, darkness and danger in these poems. O’Kane drops anchor into the pedestrian moments of the everyday and creates a unique mosaic of domestic vignettes that often take us by surprise.”
Raw and emotive, O’Kane’s work is driven by the power of memory, channelling both nostalgia and melancholy with pinpoint accuracy. These distilled micropoems and lyrically complex lengthier pieces are vivid and ultimately rewarding. A brave and uncompromising debut.
Geraldine’s poems tell of memories that are silently screaming, here they have found a voice where she is urgently reporting back as a witness. She speaks of trauma and the resilience that comes over time. She is Hitting to Hurt, I feel in an effort to heal us; she says “This is the room where I last saw you.” and she certainly sees us, she unflinchingly looks to meet your eye and then devastates us with all it means to be utterly human.
Stephen James Smith
Geraldine O’Kane is a poet, creative writing facilitator and mental health advocate. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies, journals and zines in Ireland, the UK and the US, as well as appearing in Arlen House’s anthology of new women’s poetry from Ireland, Washing Windows? Irish Women Write Poetry, Her Other Language.
She is one half of Poetry NI, a multimedia platform offering opportunities and resources for poets in Northern Ireland.
Geraldine has given a TED Talk for TEDx Belfast, and read at the Poems Upstairs Series in association with Poetry Ireland. She was recipient of the Artist Career Enhancement Scheme ’15/’16 from Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and one of Eyewear’s Best New British & Irish Poets 2017. Her poems have been listed in the Melita Hume Prize, and Glebe House Harmony Trust poetry competition. She won the NW heat of the 2013 All Ireland Poetry Slam and represented Ulster in the final.
Her micro poetry pamphlet Quick Succession was published by Pen Points Press in 2014.
Geraldine is co-host and regular reader at the Purely Poetry open mic nights in Belfast. She has also curated two multi-platform exhibitions (Poetic Perspective and Product of Perception).
She is currently supported by Arts Council NI, the Big Lottery Fund, and the University of Atypical. She is working towards her second collection and on a YA play set in 90s Northern Ireland.
Read a sample from this book
Hitting to Hurt
Everybody saw us
as the bull and the lamb,
that is how I hid for so long.
He was a chunk of a man;
I sliced him to bits with my words,
buried him with shame.
I am sorry for using such callous language.
I’ll try to reign myself in,
let’s just start again.
The first time my hands rose it felt
like they belonged to someone else.
Afterwards, I wished so hard that they did.
It’s not like it was commonplace
but the second and third time — I knew
the fists were mine and I kept on using them.
He stood there as I threatened to leave him
if he didn’t fight back or if he did I’d go anyway.
Soon I was saving all my energy and hitting to hurt.
Once, I drew blood, no longer saw him
as bull, husband or human being;
then I knew I needed help.
She doesn’t like couches
especially leather ones;
siesta beyond your welcome
and experience the loathsome
peeling of exposed skin
akin to the slow rip of a Band Aid
to reveal an unhealed wound
and yet here she is
stretched full length, legs crossed at the ankles;
a hypnotic voice urges from a cavernous beard:
take me back — slowly from the compartment of her mind
she pulls the memory, unfurls it
like a ruby red rug, follows the path
to the death of her childhood.
It’s 4 p.m. when she realises you are late,
the uniformed laughter of the bus stop
turns caustic in her ears; quietly she slips
from the group to the phone box sanctuary.
Lifts the receiver, she connects to conjoined sobs.
Without a word she hangs up, dials three little digits
for an operator to inform her an ambulance is on its way.
Exiting to the low groan of late afternoon traffic,
the entire universe seems to be suddenly packed
into her school satchel and pulls down on her shoulders.
Realising she is only a mile from her home
she begins to run but knows the battle is over
before it has begun; blue flashing wails
come in waves, then halt, envelop her.
Looking round she sees the paramedic
motion for her to climb in; like a failed criminal
she is known to them.
They arrive at her home to find it locked up, blinds down;
breaking in is like waking a sleeping child —
soft screams seep from the shattered window.
Entombed in the ambulance, her mother
reaches out to hands folded near her naval
as if searching for an umbilical defibrillator
she can attach to her chest and restart
her petrified heart, as tear-swollen lips slur
“I didn’t want to die today.”
The daughter’s inner child screams “neither did I,”
but outwardly smiles “it’s okay, everything will be ok”.
Plant this Poem
Plant these words, firmly in your frontal lobe.
Nourish them gently until the roots take hold
when your busy day is done let their poetical rhythm
meander methodically through your mind in meditation
massaging your temples as they go.
Let them be a lullaby,
luring you through the lucid labyrinth of slumber,
in the morning becoming the larcenist of your dreams.
Poems Copyright © Geraldine O'Kane 2021