Hennessy New Irish Writing: May 2018’s winning poems

‘A Subjective History of Orchids’, ‘Electrification’ and ‘Thick and Thin’ by Rachel Coventry

A Subjective History of Orchids

As a child, I saw African orchids on TV.
They were salacious.
I was guilty.

Collectors, who were men,
first raped the rainforests
in order to harvest
every single orchid.

The Suffragettes attacked
the Orchid House at Kew.
It was a bastion of male

Some are not beautiful
but still transfix.
Some kill.


Darwin wrote a book,
Various Contrivances
by which Orchids
are Fertilised by Insects
It does not illuminate

It is not altogether clear
whether orchids
actually originate here
on this planet

Real orchids are sometimes
mistaken for plastic.

Indigenous Irish orchids
will not embarrass you.
They huddle among pale rocks
in the Burren.

One summer, I found them
on rough ground at Westside
among beer cans and condoms.

This summer there were none.


My mother never saw a penguin
until, as a young woman,
she visited Edinburgh zoo.

She was astonished. By the time
I was twenty-five there was nothing
left new

those eggs they eat in Thailand
with a fully-developed chick inside
gave me pause

for a second, but by twenty-nine
every image was already
burned into my brain

sequences of blazing neurons
every possible combination
and though I liked

the phosphorescence
even that was supplemented
with those mushrooms

and that Australian who visited
me later in London.
My mother remembers

electrification but in ninety-eight
I brushed against heaven
and it wasn't all that.

Thick and Thin

Once in what I recognized to be
the thick of it I took myself out
for sushi, ordered norimaki
and green tea from the smiling waitress
in her lilac and cream kimono.

It was early the place was empty
everything so still and so pretty
I poured tea into a china bowl
slowly forgetting all about me

Rachel Coventry lives in Galway where she is studying for a doctorate in Heidegger’s Poetics. Her poetry has appeared in many journals including Poetry Ireland Review, The SHop, Cyphers, Banshee, and the Honest Ulsterman. In 2016, she won the Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust Annual Poetry Competition and was short-listed for the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Prize. Her debut collection Afternoon Drinking in the Jolly Butchers is published by Salmon poetry.