In a letter in the summer of 1802, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, “Nature has her proper interest, and [s]he will know what it is, who believes and feels, that everything has a life of its own, and that we are all one life.” Jess McKinney’s debut pamphlet Weeding weaves together human experience and the natural world: the joints, threads and meeting points ‘like the internet of fungus connecting the Douglas fir and paper birch’. The poems speak with an old soul, as if through our female ancestors, wise women interpreting plant-lore, herbalism, potion, omens, dreams, myth – and yet feel utterly alive, witty, close, new – turning through murmurations, swifts, wych elm, fern and deer, to colour theory, artists and photographers.
Shifting from the back fields of Inishowen, through to the inner-city streets of Belfast and Dublin, her work binds superstitions and love letters out of long grasses.
“These are poems touched with an infectious wonder at the miracle of our being alive in the world today, where ‘everything/ is hopeful enough to make your throat ache’. Jess McKinney’s vision nudges us a little closer to the feral side of life. Immerse yourself in Weeding’s vital wildness.” – Jessica Traynor, author of The Quick & Liffey Swim
“These exquisite poems unfurl slow and green as ferns, each line opening its own lush wonders. Extraordinary.” – Doireann Ní Ghríofa, author of A Ghost in the Throat
“Playful, tender, and dreamlike, Jess McKinney’s poems shimmer on the page. Imparting quiet confidences, these romantic, iridescent lyrics touch the natural world, and the world of the erotic body, and find a kinship both sustaining and precious.” – Seán Hewitt, author of Tongues of Fire
“I love Jessica’s collection so, so much. I think it is exquisite. It dances like light on stone. It sings us back to the very beginning of oh so much we thought we had lost along the way. A love letter to the colour green; an inventory of all that is beautiful in this world; an unfurling & unearthing; a gathering of light in all its forms. Swifts and swallows; love and longing; circles and lines: this collection will enter your dreams and sing you back awake.” – Kerri ní Dochartaigh, author of Thin Places
McKinney speaks the language of wild things as you have never heard it before, as if tongue was flower and mouth was light on river. In poems like ‘Fern’, ‘Luis Moileas’ and ‘Aiteann’ she flows us between body and earth, between earth and dreamworld, between dreamworld and self, with the intellect and confidence of she who knows what can never fully be known. I read these poems in awe. – Annemarie Ní Churreáin, author of The Poison Glen
N O T E S
Slouching was written after Joan Didion, owing the title to her collection of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Harper Collins, 2017).
The Good Kind of Green series was inspired by Maggie Nelson and Federico García Lorca, notably his poem Romance Sonámbulo. Fern, Olive and Sea are personal ekphrastic responses to specific green tones, distinguished by hexadecimal codes.
Leamhán Sléibhe, Lus Moileas and Aiteann deal in the identification, Latin genus and Irish translation of common Irish plants and wildflowers. Inspired by ‘The Bible’ at my Grandparents’ house, in actuality a copy of the Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants and Flowers (Readers Digest, 1971), which holds the answers to most questions.
Orlando borrows phrases from Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name, reimagining elements of the original narrative.
Jetsam owes part of its inspiration to Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s collection Bloodroot (Doire Press, 2017), particularly her poem Border.
Rabbit Rabbit was inspired by historical superstitions surrounding rabbits, particularly by the maritime belief that saying the word “rabbit” on board a ship was bad luck, as the devil could disguise himself as such. Additionally, the converse belief that saying “rabbit rabbit” on the first of the month will bring you luck.
After Ailbhe was written after hearing Ailbhe Darcy’s poem Ansel Adams’ Aspens read aloud by the poet.
Dampen was heavily influenced by the writings of Patti Smith, specifically her book Woolgathering (Bloomsbury, 2012).
Diving for Pearls was written after the work of Nan Goldin, particularly in response to the photobook of the same name by Glenn O’Brien (2016).
Prospect Cottage is written after Derek Jarman, inspired by the garden he raised against all odds, photographed as part of the 2019 IMMA Protest! Exhibition.
A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T S
Asleep on the Wing was published in The Moth, Issue 44 Spring 2021. Murmuration and After Ailbhe were published in Abridged, Issues “Kassandra” and “Nothing to Look Forward To But The Past”. Slouching, Orlando and Rabbit Rabbit were published in Banshee, Issues 10 and 11. The Good Kind of Green first appeared in The Stinging Fly, Issue 43. Wych Elm and Baby’s Breath were published in Channel Magazine, Issue 4. Jetsam, Dampen, Diving for Pearls, Distracted Kisses and The Assignment first appeared in “The New Frontier Anthology” by New Island Press. Latency was awarded third place in the Wolverhampton Literary Festival Poetry Competition 2021.
T H A N K S
Thanks to the Donegal County Council and Creative Ireland for supporting the development of this pamphlet through their Artist Bursary scheme. Thank you to the Irish Chair of Poetry Award 2020, and to Dedalus Press for including me in their Mentorship Programme, particularly for pairing me with the delightfully quick Mary Noonan. Thank you to my publishers Hazel Press, for the direction, confidence and divine synchronicity. Tremendous thanks to my fellow students and staff at the QUB Heaney Centre, especially Gail McConnell, Padraig Regan, Leontia Flynn, Jenny Browne and Vahni Capildeo for their creative guidance. Thank you also to Stephen Sexton for the kind, generous and invaluable insight during the supervision of many of these poems as part of my thesis. Thank you to my poem pals Eva Griffin, Noah Swinney, Susanna Galbraith, Mícheál McCann and Emily Cooper, for reading the early words and helping to shape the many drafts. Thanks to Luke for the late night conversations. Thank you finally to my family, the ones who raised a garden in me.