Hennessy New Irish Writing: July’s winning poems

Work by Anne Walsh Donnelly and Paul McMahon

Anne Walsh Donnelly

Anne Walsh Donnelly


Guide to Becoming a Writer
Be the first to scramble out of Mam’s womb.
Play Cowboys and Indians with the boys. Dump Barbie.

Be left-handed. Pretend to write with your other hand in school.
Lefties are evil, according to Sister Concepta in Junior Infants.

Become addicted to Enid Blyton. Adventures with the Famous Five
are more exciting than playing with snotty-nosed Niamh’s gang.

Listen to “All By Myself” on your Walkman until the tape breaks.
Fantasise about your latest crush drawing rings around your nipples.

Get six As in your Leaving Cert, pursue the degree
your career guidance teacher tells you will guarantee a pensionable job.

Fall in love for the first time. Get dumped. Consider walking across
O’Connell Street on a foggy morning without the little green man.

Have a mid-twenties crisis, chuck the well-paid job, backpack around the world.
Keep a travel diary. Don’t ever let your mother read it.

Race towards “being settled” in your thirties, get promoted at work,
meet your soulmate. Realise later there’s no such thing.

Marry, get pregnant, give birth.
Enjoy being a “happy family” for the next five minutes.

Leave him, make up, go back. Repeat twice.
Separate, get your own car, house, and life.

Go see a therapist. When she tells you to start writing – Just Do It.
Your sessions give you meat for a memoir that will never get published.

Enjoy the benefits of being single. Switch on the bedside light
in the middle of the night and write without anybody to interrupt.

Acquire a chronic illness, endure the pain it inflicts.
Hold your breath as smog blinds and chokes. Stop writing.

Think of your children when life becomes unbearable.
And you’ll never become a real writer if you jump into the river.

Convince yourself the world needs your poems.
Gobble the anti-depressants. Start writing again.

Being In Love At Fifty
plucks me from death row,
as fingers go deep into wet vulvas
& lips suck dry nipples. Hands expunge
the curdled cream & bitter fruit
from my body. Our medley of skin & bones
sink into a bowl of Eton Mess.

Being in love at fifty
makes me wonder if Eros will crumble
like Wensleydale cheese
or taste like Blue Stilton, after a year or two,
or if it can be transformed
into the perfect soufflé.

Being in love at fifty
makes me cry, my daughter’s picture
of me creases, feels like
she’s lost Santa all over again
has to make room for someone else
to sit beside her in my heart.

Being in love at fifty
makes me grin, my shopping bag
contains a birthday card.
& polyester shirt for my daughter
to give to her father. Lying on top,
a cerise lace bra for my lover.

  • Anne Walsh Donnelly lives in Mayo. Her work has been published in several literary magazines including Crannóg and Boyne Berries. She has been shortlisted in competitions such as the RTE Frances Mac Manus short story competition (2014 & 2015). She won the spring 2018 Blue Nib Chapbook poetry competition. One of her poems was highly commended in the OTE New Writer of the Year Award (2017). She is working towards her first collection of poetry.

The River of Forgetfulness
The man waded into The River Ganges
and placed the package - a loaf-
sized bundle wrapped in gold cloth,
tied to a flat stone - onto the keel
of a boat, then climbed on-board.

When the rower reached
the middle of the river
the man stood up and dropped
the package overboard.


On the riverbank, a boy was playing
with a purple kite – a diamond strip
cut from a plastic bag and fixed to
a bamboo crucifix – his eyes, black
as headstone marble, looking skyward
to where a shovel of white pigeons
flew out from a derelict belfry


and when I looked down again,
the man was gone.

The boat was moored on the bank -
the boatman was sitting once again
on the keel, smoking another cigarette,


and I looked back out towards the middle
of the Ganges: the surface was still -
sealed over, like the mind of the father,

through whose unfathomable waters,
tied to a flat stone slab,
his shrouded child plummets.

Paul McMahon
Paul McMahon

The Arbitration of Fire
He was about six or seven,
black rubbish-tip hair,
doe-eyes, teeth driftwood-white,
a painted-on ringmaster’s moustache,
outstretched arm and hand
held out like a soup-kitchen ladle.

I was standing beside one of
the cremation paddocks
at the burning Ghats in Varanasi.

A pyre was blazing; bruise-black
smoke rose up into the vacant sky
and the sun burned down over
the slow, wide Ganges and the vast,
sandy tidal plain on the far side.

Garlanded chanters in a canoe
rowed a dead guru out for river-
burial. The shrouded corpse
lay across the bow like
the firing arm of a crossbow.

The artful-dodger street-child
tugged once more at the hem
of my sleeve and I looked down
at his hazel eyes while reaching
into the pocket I kept stocked
with sweets for the street-children,
and I glanced over to the blazing pyre -

a man, a fire-warden, was picking up an arm,
by the elbow, that had fallen out
and he threw it back on top of
the furnace-orange flames.

When I gave the hazel-eyed street-child
the sweet, a chocolate éclair,
he clutched it in his flycatcher-hand
and asked me for money. I looked away -

the previous day I saw him
hand the coins over to a lanky teenager
who had the eyes of a knifer.

The child shrugged-off, examining
the shrouded éclair, its plastic wrapper
a black velvety blouse, which he opened,
revealing an inner wrapper - a white geisha-corset

stuck sugar-tight against the treacle skin,
which he peeled back and gently released
like a dove’s wing onto the air,
before tossing the sallow toffee body
into his gaping mouth.

I turned back to the paddock
and the burning pyre, its summit
of unquestioning flame.

The detached arm had landed
palm up - fingertips lightly cupping,

it had let go of all it had given
or been given.

  • Paul McMahon is originally from Belfast. His poetry pamphlet, Bourdon, was published by Southword Editions in November 2016. He was awarded The Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize by Carol Ann Duffy in 2015. Other poetry awards include The Ballymaloe-Moth International Poetry Prize, The Nottingham Open Poetry Prize, The Westport Poetry Prize, The Golden Pen Poetry Prize, 2nd prize in The Basil Bunting Poetry Prize, 2nd prize in The Salt International Poetry Prize, and bursary awards for poetry from The Arts Councils of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Twice nominated for the forward prize, his poetry has appeared in journals such as the Irish Times, the Threepenny Review, the Atlanta Review, Southword, the Salt Anthology of New Writing, the Montreal Poetry Prize Global Anthology, the Stinging Fly, Agenda, Poetry Ireland Review, the Best New British and Irish Poets 2018, and others. He is currently working towards his debut full-length poetry collection.