Vona Groarke


1964- [fam. “Ginger”]; b. nr. Lissoy, Co. Westmeath; issued poetry, Shale (1994); winner of Brendan Behan Memorial Prize, 1994; Other People’s Houses (1999); Flight (2002); winner of Sunday Tribune and Hennessy awards; reads poems on RTÉ in 2003; introduced Goldsmith’s Deserted Village for Gallery edition; issued Juniper Street (2006); trans., Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, Lament for Art O’Leary (2008); issued Spindrift (2009), with the Poetry Society Recommendation; m. to Conor O’Callaghan, with whom she was joint-winner of Rooney Prize Special Award, 1996; has broadcast on BBC; issued a translation of Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill (The Lament of Art O6Leary, 2008); edited Poetry Ireland Review, Nos. 113-19, up to Jan. 2017; teaches at Manchester University;

[ top ]

  • Shale (Oldcastle: Gallery Books 1994), 58pp.
  • Other People’s Houses (Oldcastle: Gallery Books 1999), 55pp.
  • Flight (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2002), 74pp.
  • Juniper Street (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2006), 72pp..
  • Spindrift (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2009), 80pp.
  • Lament for Art O’Leary [of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill] (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2008), 39pp.
  • contrib. to Krino, “The State of Poetry” [Special Issue], ed. Gerald Dawe & Jonathan Williams (Winter 1993), pp.20-21.
  • intro., Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2003), 58pp.
  • ‘The Passion Behind the Poetry’, review of Lyndall Gordon, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds, in The Irish Times (27 Feb. 2010), Weekend Review, p.10.

[ top ]

Rita Kelly, ‘The Sinew of Memory’, review of Other People’s Houses, in Books Ireland (March 2000), p.64 [infra]; see also Selina Guinness, poetry review, Irish Times (Weekend, 8 June 2002); Catríona Clutterbuck, ‘New Irish Women Poets: The Evolution of (in)Determinacy in Vona Groarke’, in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry, ed. Fran Brearton & Alan Gillis (OUP 2012), pp.651-[67].

See also Lucy Collins, ‘Architectural Metaphors: Representations of the House in the Poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Vona Groarke’, in Irish Literature since 1990: Diverse Voices, ed. Scott Brewster & Michael Parker (Manchester UP 2009) [Chap. 6] & Collins, ‘Vona Groarke: Memory and Materiality’, in Contemporary Irish Women Poets: Memory and Estrangement (Liverpool UP 2016) [Chap. 7].

[ top ]

Rita Kelly, ‘The Sinew of Memory’, review of Other People’s Houses, in Books Ireland (March 2000), writes: ‘Critics have been struck by Groarke's sensibility, the assurance and regulated qualities of her voice. [...] This is a kind of poetry which echoes back through the poetry we know well, the poetry which has left an impression upon the brain, as it were. It recalls Emily Dickinson more than Elizabeth Bishop. It has a new England daring directness about it. But perhaps these are qualities which belong to the Border-Midland region of Ireland? It is a poetry of inclusion too; there is a very strong sense of the other, the “you” or the joint experience. At its best it is daring, sensitive and gentle. //It is quite daring too to take the House theme and stretch it over a collection, something as familiar, comfortable, ordinary and universal. The notion of sheltering ourselves from an inclement planet with whatever household gods are dear to us; even if we don't have a house we still aspire to one. And there is the sense too that our house belongs to her people. Groarke deals with the reality of modern, quasi-urban living as we replicate ourselves in the façades of our neighbours’. (p.64.)

David Wheatley, review notice of Flight (Gallery Press), 74pp., in Times Literary Supplement [5 July 2002]; notes epigraph from Oliver Goldsmith: ‘Sunk are thy bowers in shapeless ruin all’; cites poems, “The Verb ‘to Herringbone’”; “Choose one version”; “The Way it Goes” (‘Turn it. Let it go. See how it spins.’); “Shot Sillk”; “Worldl Music”; “Pop”; “Or to Come”; “The Bower”, et al. Remarks of “Imperial Measure” that Groarke lets us deduce the momentous nature of the Easter Rising of 1916 from its effects on the cellars of Dublin’s Four Courts [quoting:] ‘the spirits kept their heady confidence, for all the stockpiled bottles / had chimed with every hit, and the calculating scales above it all / had the measure of nothing, or nothing not of smoke, and then wildfire.’

[ top ]

“The Verb to Herringbone”, poem, contrib. to The Irish Times: ‘Something beginning with slightness and possibly/taken from there. As though unheard of, inauspicious,/the way a pheasant or a wood-pigeon/will find a point of no return, on a lorryless/side-road or on the lee side of an air./Something begun and verring off at once//as though to double back would be the point/of it and diminution be a slight recall:/something with an underscore,/though currently usure how to proceed/or to convince. Like the verb “to herringbone”/or the air displaced by flight.’ (Irish Times, April 2000; Weekend; q. date.)

High Notes

On a train threading the eye of north 
it is nothing to begin to collapse 
the various silence the city required of me: 
to find in the high notes of the brakes 
the scarlet lining of a dark coat 
or the single lit office on a top floor; 
to listen for the shape of a name 
through glass at a station stop; 
to observe the fields of an afternoon, 
the way they chase each other down 
in the kind of blue that learned abstraction 
moons ago, how they resolve themselves 
into a love poem for no one in particular, 
written to be open, for the sake of openness, 
this night and every budding night inside.

—In Boston Review (16 July 2014) - online.

[ top ]

En Route”: ‘Even the Foxford rug is black and white / though matted with a wayward heat / that makes your fingers swarm under the cover / in a lapful of your sleek, unsworn intentions […]’. (In The Irish Times [Weekend], 26 Jan. 2002.)

Archaeology”: ‘[...] Let's skew it with a spray of last night's dreams: / rain that tasted of copper; houses made of silver-foil; / a piglet in a Babygro, for fun. And then, at last, to tie the whole thing up, a woman on an unknown road, / waving a cloth so red it bleeds out on her hand, / the empty road, an inscrutable sky.’ (End; quoted in James J. McAuley, review of Windmill Hymns, in The Irish Times, Weekend (12 Feb. 2005).

[ top ]