Hennessy New Irish Writing: June 2018’s winning poems

New poems by Laura McKenna and William Leo Coakley


What then is the signal to go?

The sun low in its arc, the yellowing moss

Or the drift of downy white,

A scrim of ice on tundra pools?


Do you shuffle forward, seaward

Ruffle feathers, ruk ruk, stretch your wings

Out, up? Is it the pull of go,

The push of fly, the open sky

That leads to this, beat on beat,

Over the seas of Baffin Bay

Coasting the fjords of Greenland

Soaring over icecaps, heart pumping

To push, push to three thousand metres

Find the current, to bring you down

The Denmark Strait, to Iceland, a time

At least to feed on eel grass,

Then gather the last reserves,

Fly low, follow the stars? Or is it the sun

That spurs you on, through Atlantic gales

To land at last at Strangford Lough

Or a stretch of Darndale wasteland

To graze with Travellers’ piebalds?

So what went wrong, that brings just one

to Coulagh Bay, in September?

Were your fellows prey to kestrels,

Or hunters’ guns in Iceland

Or did your compass point you here

For a solitary journey’s end?

Mum and Jasper in the Morning

She rises before eight to oversee his peeing, no matter what the season, weather,

or her own inclination –

Downstairs, she ignores her damn knee, and while he leaps and circles, she makes a cup of tea

Takes an old rain coat, slung over her dressing gown, and opens the door onto the garden.

Onto darkness or lemon dawn or barley sugar skies or low slung cloud

and seeping rains or

The trickle drip from last night’s storm, the pots tossed on windblown grass,

or soaring birdsong,

Or onto stillness, a hush of frost, a slip of muffled snow. Or the grey heron

unfolding from the dark pond.

While he snuffles through soil or poppies or sodden leaves, she pauses –

To lift a drooping hellebore

Scour her hostas, pluck and crush a snail underfoot, brush past a salvia,

deadhead a rosebush,

Pickpocket seed pods, water saplings in the greenhouse.

Though why she bothers she doesn’t know

Having no more space

to grow anything.

And yet –

She turns back up the garden again, calling for Jasper,

carrying inside

Earth on her feet, scent of salvia

on her hands.

Laura McKenna lives in Cork where she is completing a novel as part of a Creative Writing PhD at UCC. Her poems have been published in New Irish Writing, The SHOp, and the Irish Examiner among others. She is a past Hennessy Award and Forward Prize nominee and this year she received a commendation in the Gregory O'Donoghue International Poetry Prize. Her first (unpublished) novel was a winner at the Irish Novel Fair, and longlisted in 2016 for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and Bath Novel Award. Her short stories have been published in The Litro Anthology of New Fiction, Southword and Banshee and she is a past winner of the Penguin/RTÉ Guide short story competition.


to the memory of

Pier Paolo Pasolini

This is no meek communion of the saints –

The boys are rough: they take what we will not give,

Kill, cure, or spare us; then the tricks are turned

That tame the streets to gold. We are bought and sold.

The entrances that open let them in

To solitudes in which we love and grow;

They occupy us (boys will not be boys).

Look up! The tower clock begins to groan

With expectations: Time will answer back,

The past come back – nothing is ever new.

Step backwards down the stairs: come up, go down –

Unless we dance between the past and now,

Between the future and the present dance,

The image bursts into its flower of flame,

Breaks from its chain, and we are men of air.

Father of Waters, rain down upon your sons on fire,

Drown us or buoy us in the depths of our desire.

Piazza Navona, Rome


From the beached boats

on Sappho’s island,

past the nude men at play,

row on row

of Syrian women

veiled in shields of hijab

carry their cargo of flesh

saved from the fires,

saved from the rough sea,

on their journey to nowhere.

Dizzied by languages

their children will learn,

what will they call home

if peace return?

William Leo Coakley