Daughters of the House, Catherine Phil MacCarthy’s fifth collection, opens with poems that arose during a residency in Paris. It begins with glimpses of that city in the present before reaching back to consider some of the many Irish artists who were drawn to and lived in the city, as well as the country they left behind.
The poems in Daughters of the House reflect on moments in Irish history from the 1880s through the early 20th century, and honour historical figures such as Maud Gonne, Michael Davitt and Sarah Purser.
The movement towards independence and the making of Ireland are preoccupations, as are the links between colonisation and globalisation.
Her poems flesh out the full layers of meaning in a simple moment that is flawlessly registered. At other times, and with the same concision, MacCarthy condenses the heartbreak of an Irish short story.
— O’Shaughnessy Award for Irish Poetry citation
Along Rue Lacépède, a window on shoes
and leather belts. Inside the door,
the rich odour.
A man, at a counter, lays aside his work,
displays shoes he makes himself
for dancing, classical jazz.
‘Pelure’ is the word that he suggests,
offering to fit a waist. I think of live calves.
Vellum. The Book of Kells. My father
choosing a belly-band for a horse
at Carews, William Street,
a new ‘winkers’ for the mare.
There, tools are clipped on a wall.
Here again, the gilt-embossed S
on a black sewing machine,
its wrought-iron treadle spells
S-I-N-G-E-R. Monsieur praises
the invention, shows the needle’s eye.
There’s my mother at the table
hand winding the wheel,
her mouth full of pins,
rat-tat-tat of the silvery metal foot
between mid-finger and index.
The needle drills a long seam
to sew a new dress, a summer shift,
a dancing skirt in green poplin,
the bobbin spinning. Fabric
cascades onto the floor,
a waterfall spilling from a bolt
across the table. All business,
new words drop from her lips,
‘muslin’, ‘chiffon’, ‘bias’,
Daughters of the House
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