David Cooke reviews Noonan’s The Fado House

The Fado House

I recently posted a couple of spring poems by Mary Noonan and in a conversation with David Cooke about her collection discovered he is a fan of her work. He kindly sent his review  (previously published in Agenda) to snuggle up against the compost in The Poetry Shed.

Mary Noonan’s The Fado House is a remarkably assured first collection. It gets off to a flying start with ‘Keep Talking, Babe’, a poem that is both disorientating and dazzling. As in the work of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, that doyenne of Irish poetry and one whom Noonan clearly admires, we are offered little in the way of back story or recognizable context:
It was his dream to see me through a screen
With words and music and a cast of dwarves
Playing card-sharps, hecklers, fire-eaters.
My only act was to jabber, but I could work it up
To a howl, and this I did for centuries.

A consummate performance in its own right, ‘performing’ is essentially what this poem is about and it takes a confident poet to carry it off: ‘The beauty of my inflection was enough to catch / The crowd, and when I had them I’d lunge / Between whisper and rant, spinning on plosives.’ The impressive poise and headlong rush of Noonan’s syntax here is replicated in other pieces early on in The Fado House. ‘I will Gabble’ again plunges us in medias res, albeit in a more easily apprehended social context. Out of the blue the protagonist gets a phone call: ‘and there you were my heart ripped / from its coat of mail and tap-dancing all over my chest’; while in ‘Night Traffic’ Noonan’s lengthy run-on lines might easily have teetered over the edge into prose or chaos were it not for the controlled flamboyance of her language:

Into the candle-flame went
talk of Mexico City and the high-wire circus of Budapest
and the German outposts of Transylvania and the lure
of pepper (chilli, paprika) and three bottles of French wine
and the touch of his hands.

In ‘Swallow’ there is a similar, if slightly more restrained, forward movement which, somewhat in the manner of Eugenio Montale’s ‘L’Anguilla’, evokes a small creature’s urge to migrate and the epic journey that lies before it:

Soon she will be darting over miles
of dust tract, past ghost shack and scrub
glancing off rock cacti that do not sink roots
but run feelers lightly over dunes, cup rain
as it slides through spines.

However, impressive as the unfettered élan of such poems may be, the reader would soon grow weary if this were Noonan’s only mode. By way of contrast, there are poems such as ‘Evening in Muscat’, in which the details are quietly noted and a scene is presented cinematically:

The muezzin’s cry rings from unseen minarets, incantatory,
unavoidable. Cushions and satellite dishes litter flat roofs,
wind chimes scatter flocks of small parrots.
Cocks crow, night falls quickly.

‘The Fado House of Argentina Santos’ is another precisely observed poem which makes a interesting contrast with ‘Keep Talking Babe’. Structurally, the two poems seem poles apart, yet both are concerned with the role of the artist and the way she expresses herself. Here, we enter the world of the Portuguese fadistas, performers par excellence, who sing songs of saudade or ‘longing’, a concept as elusive as the Andalucian duende or the gospel singer’s soul: ‘Cradling herself in a fringed shawl / she opens her throat and ululates / in broken tremolo for the old dreams.’

Stylistically varied, the fifty five poems of The Fado House are also wide-ranging in their geographical locations: from Noonan’s family roots in Ireland to the many places she has since travelled: France, Portugal, Germany, The Middle East, India. However, those set in Ireland and inspired by family memories are among the most directly effecting. ‘The Turnip’ is a beautifully rendered poem which captures haecceitas in a way that Heaney or Ponge might well have been proud of: ’big, hairy, yellow bostoons, food fit for sows and banbhs’. The vegetable then takes on a symbolic resonance as it becomes emblematic of the poet’s personal trajectory: ‘Warming to your subject, you likened the difference / between the fine French navet and the rough Irish / variety to that between a thoroughbred and a dray’. ‘Winter Clothes’ and ‘No Shoes’ point up the poverty of rural Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s, which led to mass migration. This is the subject of ‘The Rosslare Train, Fermoy, August 20, 1956’, a poem that Noonan has dedicated to her father, a keen athlete whose foot was spiked the day before he was due to leave: ‘It’s true this place / couldn’t give me a living, but it gave me running / and leaping and playing – a wild boy’s life’. Impassioned and vibrant, The Fado House is a collection that one can wholeheartedly recommend. It has depth, range, and endless resonance.

DavidDavid Cooke’s retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published in 2011 by Night Publishing. A new collection, Work Horses, was published by Ward Wood in 2012. His poems and reviews have appeared in journals such as Agenda, The Bow Wow Shop, The Interpreter’s House, The Irish Press, The London Magazine, Magma, The Morning Star, New Walk, The North, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Reader, The SHOp and Stand. He has two collections forthcoming: A Murmuration (Two Rivers Press, 2015) and After Hours (Cultured Llama Press 2017).


Mayfield Fringe Festival – Poetry Reading


Several years ago I read at the Mayfield Festival alongside Gill McEvoy and Sue Roe. Jill Munro tells me about this year’s event (her first full reading!) on Sunday May 3rd at the Middle House, 7-8 pm.  Doors open 6.30 pm.

‘The sweetest village in England’ so wrote the poet, Coventry Patmore, of Mayfield in East Sussex. The Medieval Village is currently hosting its 3rd Fringe Festival (25th April – 3rd May) celebrating visual arts, story telling, music, performance and poetry – and I’m one of three poets taking part in a reading on the last day of the festival at Middle House, the lovely pub/restaurant, aptly, in the middle of the village. It is a wonderful Elizabethan building, dating back to 1575 which has a cosy atmosphere and a heavily oak panelled restaurant.


The other poets – Patricia McCarthy and Robin Houghton – are experienced readers on the ‘circuit’ but this will be my first public reading of several of my poems in one session – I’ve only ever previously read an individual poem in public. So this will mean thinking about timing, length of poems and selecting the poems to be read from my forthcoming collection ‘Man from La Paz’ (Green Bottle Press, London). I had hoped the book would be out there by now but, as is often the case in publishing, it’s been delayed until next month. I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a convivial atmosphere and enjoying Robin’s and Patricia’s readings – at least the pub-goers can have a drink or supper to supplement the poetry! Well, I’ll be doing that anyway … seems a shame not to in such a lovely setting and I’ve heard from reliable sources the food is yummy.’



Allotment Man

Last night I dreamt you sprouted from the land,
naked, with a large onion in each hand.
Your head glowed pumpkin orange, not carved
or chiselled, but handsome just the same,
your nose lengthened to a parsnip. Your eyes?
Ripening, rolling black-eyed peas and, quite clearly,
your ears were cauliflowered, so prettily floretted.

Your onion-hand flicked casually, as it often does,
not at strands of hair, but plaited garden twine.
Your bulging forearms curved courgettely,
as both calves deepened to dark marrow green
below your mud-clung, spuddy knees. Giant
mushroom buttocks bloomed (possibly Portobello)
as your round belly switched from pink to gourdy yellow
and then the Armenian cucumber began to grow …

So with scarlet-flowering runner beans curling
round your pearly garlic-dimpled thighs,
I newspaper-packed you in my garden shed,
hoping you’d not rot, and still be there today
as, and this is just aching to be said,
I do truly dig my Allotment Man. Let’s play.


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Lucy Hely-Hutchinson: Featured Poet


Dear tomorrow,

please let him remember me
through Menorca summers
and Shanghai dreaming,
knowing I used
each bruise and bite-
mark to prove him.

I traced leather blanes
of his jacket
and smelt his
grey shirt to sleep –
texture and scent
cradled me.

Spain now follows me;
Feliz Navidad, paella
and Real Madrid.
It’s like the nation
found, grasped,
lost me.

Wherever you are,
I’ll measure the distance;
between pillows and continents.

Tomorrow, please
bring March quickly.


Lucy Hely-Hutchinson is currently studying in the Sixth Form at Benenden School and is a long-time member of Poetry Club. She is the 2011-2012 School Poet Laureate and has poems published in Agenda Broadsheet, Grey Area (a newsletter created by the student body)and A Piece of Cake. She was shortlisted for 2012 Christopher Tower Poetry Award with her poem Postcards, the title poem of her short collection performed at the school Literary Concert. She recently read at the Agenda poetry evening in Mayfield.