Free Ireland shipping on orders over €25 | Free Worldwide shipping on orders over €45

The One Who Swears You Can't Start Over / Ethna McKiernan

The One Who Swears You Can't Start Over

By: Ethna McKiernan

The One Who Swears You Can't Start Over is both an elegiac record of losses and a testimony to our collective human determination to begin again. Though the book is centered around family and losses (loss of a mother to Alzheimer's, loss of a child, loss of a friend to suicide), it also includes a number of coming-of-age poems; poems on poetry, including the deadpan-funny "Why I Lied My Way Through Childhood;" persona ...
ISBN 1 903392 22 5
Pub Date Monday, April 01, 2002
Cover Image Jessie Lendennie
Page Count 92
Share on
The One Who Swears You Can't Start Over is both an elegiac record of losses and a testimony to our collective human determination to begin again. Though the book is centered around family and losses (loss of a mother to Alzheimer's, loss of a child, loss of a friend to suicide), it also includes a number of coming-of-age poems; poems on poetry, including the deadpan-funny "Why I Lied My Way Through Childhood;" persona poems written in voices unique as Peter the Apostle and Snow White; several sonnets, a sestina and other pieces about the author's children; and poems of deep praise, deep joy, such as "Dinner at the Frost Place" and "Homage to the Common."

Ethna McKiernan

Ethna McKiernan has been twice awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board grant in poetry. Her first book, Caravan, was nominated for the Minnesota Book Award and her work has been widely anthologized, including in The Notre Dame Book of Irish American Poetry, 33 Minnesota Poets, and more. McKiernan holds an MFA from Warren Wilson Program for Writers. Her fourth book, Swimming With Shadows, was published by Salmon Poetry (Ireland) in 2019. McKiernan works in Street Outreach for a non-profit serving the Minneapolis homeless population. In an earlier life, she was CEO of Irish Books and Media, Inc., a school bus driver, and a grape picker in France.

Deora Dé
for my father
We walked through a tunnel of fuschia
and he called the bushes Deora Dé.
"From the Irish," he said, Tears of God.
How like him it was to pull his other language
from the air like that,
Threading the red blaze of color
and its teardrop song to the sorrow spent
by one creating it, petal by detailed petal
added to a burden of immense particulars
in a world still daily being made.
My father - his thin shoulders angling
through the patched tweed jacket,
our hands linked by the old stories,
fused history cast in common bone.
And the wild fuschia light
on the West Cork mountains
that October afternoon.

Irish Literary Supplement, Spring 2003. Reviewed by Kevin McEneaney.

Both James Liddy and Ethna McKiernan dwell in the Midwestern heartland and Ireland retains the romance of their roots, though they are very different kinds of poets. While McKiernan pens wry poems of wisdom and amusing domesticity, Liddy strives for meditative eloquence amid the bohemian demi-monde.

The body of Liddy's achievement has recently been acclaimed by Brian Arkins in James Liddy: A Study of his Poetry (Arlen House). Arkins finds that Liddy's poetry excels in Greek energia (vividness, vitality, immediacy), a category of critical evaluation somewhat neglected by modern pundits. Another influence on Liddy remains the bohemian pub scene of Patrick Kavanagh's Dublin and Jack Kerouac's street lust -- transatlantic musings by moonlight dancing. Dancing, a metaphor for journeys in memory and place, occupies center stage in his new book, a broadside from an unrepentant outsider who proffers mischievous fun in the face of a static and suffocating zeitgeist. Unlike most poets today, Liddy strives for the lyric line and the aesthetic sensibility that will illuminate the ordinary. This is achieved through meditative digressions sculpted with a Parisian whisper of surrealism ("only to listen to melancholy and beautiful / violins under the oxters weeping madonnas / in the plinth fields from Kilfenora") and the beat affinity for compiling comic lists that contain a cultural critique. The tone remains steadfastly intimate, the golden discourse of eloquence, for which the poet yearns as he sings to salvage a Proustian redemption from his family memories in Ireland, his fringe participation in the official, Irish literary scene, and his subsequent fate as a teacher in the American heartland. He presents himself as literary with an appreciation of spontaneity and absurdity, the later appearing as memory photos valued for their eccentricity or anecdotal romance. The book is a series of confidential asides to be contrasted with teh chorus of what he calls the Irish Poetry Mafia. His lyric, set dancing is intimate, while theirs is the official stage jig or yearning for lace-curtain, social respectability. "A Keening" and "Venice Poem for Nora's and Tom's Return" exploits the litany with humour and panache, while many other poems turn to the humility of prayer and moments of secular crisis. Discovering continuity between Latin, Gaelic, and conversational English, what he retains most vividly is mystery, mystery in his meditations and observations, mystery in the source of his poetic wellspring amid the crass indifference of the world and his memories of those who have preferred authenticity and wit to the idol of respectability. As an emeritus of the poetic scene, repository of anecdote, and conversationalist of wit (he can do an impersonation of George Moore or Oscar Wilde at the blink of an eye), James Liddy should be much in demand on the college reading circuit.

As a poet of domestic humour, Ethna McKiernan is a master of the graceful family anecdote. Many poems dramatise the anxieties and joys of motherhood, but she shuns mere sentimentality in favour of bemused disposition. Although like Liddy she gardens amid the intimate, her voice projects outwardly like a speaking flower, as in "The Architecture of Flowers" where (after recollection her father's chilly kitchen in Dublin) she wishes for Ovidian transformation into an iris, demanding that time stop for her, a witty inversion of the Horatian carpe diem. Where her previous book, Caravan, was good and well-crafted, her current book enters the joy of song as poetic structure becomes second nature as she celebrates offspring ("Under It All"), provides comic confession of small sins ("Why I Lied My Way Through Childhood"), and loving snapshots of her mother ("When") and father ("Deora De"). Contentment in the ordinary ("I celebrate alike the lumpy August lawn / awash with acorns and the first new snow / which tempers any memory of wrong.") as it is transformed by the imagination remains her theme, but it rises with yeast of amazement. Reading her lyrics restores equanimity in the reader, even when she meditates soberly on the death of friends. Posted to home, her love poems reveal her gentle acceptance of life and her generous personality embracing those around her.

Two different transatlantic voices, immersed both in America and in Ireland; two divergent sensibilities, but both accomplished wordsmiths. The publisher, Salmon Poetry, has emerged as a transatlantic voice, displaying greater depth in the Irish American experience, making a difference for all those who appreciate culture.

The Bloomsbury Review, September/October 2003

There are poets with no sense of sound, like Allen Ginsberg, whose readings sounded to me like a train wreck. And there are poets without the sound of sense. Their work may be lilting but do not nourish the heart. I think, "Lovely, but what did it mean?" Usually nothing.

But Ethna McKiernan, a Minnesota writer with strong ties to Ireland - she claims to have made 50 visits - not only delivers strong statements, but has a lyrical gift that is charming to the ear. As Pound showed, poetry should never be far from song, and song never far from dance. Quite so. McKiernan didn't get me up to do a jig, but her poetry, especially the formal pieces, could easily be sung.

Schoolroom poets often trot off measured works, "mastering" one form or other, but usually the effort falls short for lack of real passion. And street poets sometimes spew personal expressions onto the page, confounding readers with their complete lack of control. McKiernan seems to write because she has to, and graces her verse with resonance because she can. How rare this is.

There are five sections in this slim volume. One of the most tender and anguished collects 10 poems about her mother's Alzheimer's. Much of McKiernan's work is dark, but if the reader does not insist on lightheartedness, the grimness does not offend. This poet is no starry-eyed kid bent on commemorating trivial subjects; she is a seasoned pro still able to shed tears of both sorrow and delight.

McKiernan writes in free verse and more formal forms, such as the sonnet; her versatility intrigues. She transports readers. Her sensitivity and care speak of genuine consciousness.

Ethna McKiernan stands out among the ranks of poets for her ability to match language to subject, sound to sense. When this combination comes into play, readers come away refreshed and drawn deeper into life. Is there a higher purpose to art?

Review by Freddy Bosco

Other Titles from Ethna McKiernan

Contact us

Salmon Poetry / The Salmon Bookshop
& Literary Centre,
Main Street,
County Clare,
V95 XD35,

Arts Council
Credit Cards