Sunday Poem – Eileen Sheehan

some contradictions that beset the ex-wife’s brain – Eileen Sheehan

When I got your news I sent a message
saying, I hope you all have a great day out.
This was no lie, but in fairness, it was only
part of the truth.  I hope she drags you up and down
and up and down and up and down the beach
in the glaring sun, looking for the perfect spot
to lie in.  I hope this pisses you off.
I hope she looks fat and pale in her swimsuit.
I hope there is cellulite.  I hope that next door’s blanket
has three toddlers who kick sand all day and
squeal incessantly in high-pitched voices.  I hope they drop
dollops of melting ice pops on your legs
and globs of egg sandwiches.  I hope
there are wasps.  I hope her sons are moody and
grunt all day in adolescent monosyllables
no matter what you ask.  I hope a jellyfish
bites her on the arse.  I hope you catch sight of a woman
way up on the beach and for a second
you think she’s me.  I hope you spent at least
another hour and a half craning your neck
to find out.  I take back the jellyfish,
it seems too cruel and besides her pain
might rouse your pity and move you
to minister to the wound.  I hope
there is nothing like that.  I hope that after
an hour and a half straining your bad eyesight
up along the beach you see that same woman who clearly
isn’t me: looks nothing like me.  I hope
you are disappointed.  I hope you arrive home
irritable and cranky from too much sun.  I hope
you check your messages to see if I sent you one.
I did.  I hope you get it.  It says, not untruthfully,
I hope you all have a great day out. I hope you know
I was neither jealous nor missing you when I wrote it.
I hoped I could be good enough to send you
that one pure wish and nothing more.  I hope you understand
I am too duplicitous to have managed that.
In retrospect, I hope you realised before today
what a black heart you left behind you
when you left me here.  I hope you don’t think
I want you back.  I hope
I’m not taking a step too far
writing you this.  I hope you get the joke.

I know it’s not Sunday but I’ve been in Cork this weekend at the Winter Warmer Festival and I didn’t take my laptop.  I got a late flight back last night and there was absolutely no way I could stay up to write this so I thought I would do another Monday post instead.

This poem comes from Eileen Sheehan’s second collection Down the Sunlit Hall published by Doghouse, a publisher based in Ireland.  Sadly, Doghouse has closed down, after ten years of publishing but I’m really happy that Eileen has found a new home for her work, and her third collection ‘The Narrow Place of Souls’ (what a wonderful title!) will be coming out with Salmon Poetry.

Eileen did a wonderful reading at the festival, which swung from being very moving to incredibly funny and back again.  I bought her book because I really enjoyed the poetry reading and I read it on the way back on the plane in one sitting.

I chose this poem because as many of you know, I love curse poems and I’m really happy I’ve found another one!  This one is a curse poem in disguise though, using ‘I hope’ as it’s repeating line.  I like the fact that ‘I hope’ taken on its own seems really positive but in this poem, it’s a way of wishing ill.

This poem also does what Eileen did in her reading, it fluctuates between being very funny and very moving.  I found all of the ‘hopes’ funny, but especially the line ‘I hope her sons are moody and/grunt all day in adolescent monosyllables/no matter what you ask’ and the idea of hoping that the ex-husband sees a woman that he thinks might be his ex-wife then spends the whole day craning his neck looking for her is a brilliant curse!

Then you get to the line ‘I hope you realised before today/what a black heart you left behind you/when you left me here.’ and I find that incredibly heartbreaking.  The poem moves on from simple revenge to real insight into the self.

I would really recommend checking out Eileen’s work.  There is a wonderful article about her on the Poetry International website, written by Paul Casey, the organiser of the Winter Warmer Festival.

So after the usual busy and manic two days of teaching last week, I left Barrow and headed to Hebden Bridge to read alongside the wonderful poet Peter Riley at The Bookcase.  It was the last night of a reading series that Sarah Corbett and Carola Luther have put together.  The rain was threatening to take over Hebden again, and I think this may have kept a few people away but it was still a decent sized audience.  I met up with Carola before the reading and it was lovely to catch up with her again.

I was staying in a lovely B and B with a fantastic view over Hebden but I didn’t really appreciate the luxury as I spent the whole night panicking about whether I would sleep through my alarm which was set for 4.45am.  I had to get to Manchester airport to get my flight at 9am to Cork and thought I’d better leave early because of the morning traffic.

I read that evening with two Irish poets, Dean Browne and Michelle Sullivan.  I was really nervous about reading first, but the audience were so friendly and responsive that once I got going I was fine.  I managed to sell ten books and six pamphlets over the weekend, taking my grand total of books that I’ve sold personally (rather than publishers’s total) to 211 this year.  Pamphlet total is now at 625.  I was quite pleased as my case had been really full dragging all the books over.  Sadly I replaced them all because I bought lots of books.

I spent most of Friday hanging out with Aneirin Karadog, a fabulous Welsh poet who managed to keep the audience’s attention with his fantastic performance, despite the poems being written in Welsh and Briton.  His introductions and explanations were very funny and he used a staff to beat out the rhythm of some of the poems.  On Saturday I found a kindred spirit in Tony Ward and Angela Jarman from Arc Publications and had great fun talking to them.  I also spent a large part of the weekend eating scones and various cakes with the lovely James Byrne, who was also reading at the festival.

A whole gang of poets from Fermoy came down to the festival on Saturday and it was lovely to see all of them again.  Probably my favourite poet at the festival, because he was a completely new discovery was a Latvian poet called Karlis Verdins, published by Arc.  He was a brilliant reader, very dry and funny.

The festival is definitely a poetry marathon – I saw ten poets read on Friday and another nine I think on Saturday, but I made lots of discoveries of poets that I hadn’t heard of before.  If you’re looking for a festival to attend next year that is friendly with a great atmosphere with a high quality programme, then I would recommend the Winter Warmer Festival.  There was a great mix of Irish and international poets, and everybody was commenting on the variety of the performers.

I am glad to be home though, at least until Friday anyway, when I head off to Word Club in Leeds to perform with the lovely Helen Mort.  I think there are a few tickets left for this as far as I’m aware and it would be great to see some of you there!


9 comments on “Sunday Poem – Eileen Sheehan

  1. I really enjoyed Eileen’s poem and would have loved hearing her read it. Great to hear more of your poetry travels and congratulations on your healthy book sales x

  2. Will be at Word Club on Friday. Looking forward to hearing you read. Had hoped to be able to read for you & Helen, but sadly I lost out in the open mic ballot. 🙁

  3. Now there’s a rumbuctious poem to start the week. I especially like the challenge to timming and breath control. I’ve had a great time trying it out, and exorcising the seething bitterness that wells up whenever I try to deal with insurance claims. I think you should be able to get this sort of poetry on the National Health. See you on Friday. x

    1. Hi John – I wonder if the poem is ‘easier’ to read in a lovely soft Irish accent – for the timing/breath control I mean. It would be interesting to hear Eileen read it and then someone else with a different accent.

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