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).


Richard Thomas Featured Poet



Cézanne and His Critics

Down long Parisian streets,
steeped with sepia
and seeping Seine,
he went,
canvas stacked on back,
hobbling hunchback,
like He of Notre Dame
or Christ with his crucifix.

‘I am the Messiah’ he yelled
and no one believed him,
even gargoyles laughed
from their cloisters
at his paintings
of pottery and naked bathers.
Gaining closer to the gallery
the critics saw his coming,

scorned and pitied –
poor Paul Cézanne
was to walk back home,
the saddest walk of them all,
acrylic weeping in tow,
too much brushstroke for them,
too un-classical.
Ah, but little did they know

that one hundred years on
his hatted card players
with white pipe would have gone
for one hundred and sixty million,
and I can hear Cézanne
rolling in his grave with laughter,
‘That’ll show the bastards’.



Richard Thomas is a 25 year old poet living in Plymouth, Devon. Richard has a diploma in Creative Writing and is studying a degree in English Literature and Language. Richard is the editor of poetry e-zine Symmetry Pebbles – www.symmetrypebbles.com with which his editorial selection of a poem won a Poetry Kit Award. His poems and haiku are published/forthcoming in journals and webzines internationally such as Orbis, FIRE, Neon Highway, Weyfarers, The Coffeehouse, Reflections, Notes from the Gean, Presence, Bottle Rockets, The Oddrot, Wild Orphan, Venus in Scorpio, The IMPpress, Neutral Norway and Clinic, aswell as various anthologies. Richard was shortlisted for the National Poetry Competition 2011.

‘The Strangest Thankyou’ is his debut collection of poems published by Cultured Llama. It is available for £8.00 from www.culturedllama.co.uk


Bethany Pope

Bethany Pope: Featured Poet


Naked and crouched on nubbly carpet,
Between Leesha’s rough knees,
I can feel the fabric of her shorts,
Slick, cheap, donated; behind them the couch,
Gummed over from too many bodies.

Leesha is talking, although not to me.
Jerry Springer is on, his early incarnation,
The guest is a fat man, Bacchus like, bearded,
He has married his ass, has
Made a special ring, to close round the hoof.

Leesha’s fingers, horn colored, move through
The raveled skein of my hair, drawing
Out tresses, occasionally humming, prayer-chanting
Down in her throat. The narrow comb moves, parting hairs,
Removing the shells of incipient lice. Six fall to my knee.

My legs are bald, parted before me,
My clothes in a wad, to bleach in the sink.
The refrigerator has a padlock on the door.
The kitchen is locked, closed against light.
I think about monkeys. If I were one,
Leesha could feed me the food I have grown.

She rinses the comb in the bowl by her feet,
The one which smells of urine and water.
Her feet are bare, ashen, I look at her toenails.
‘Girl, if I could grow your hair.’, her tongue, red, clucking.
She turns on the clippers. Tooth broken. Chattering.

At my feet, a consummation. Hair falls,
Brownish, scab colored, smelling of blood,
The air on my scalp. Why did she comb it?
The hair on the floor, suddenly dead, everything,
Dead. All of that life lost, to no cause
And no one is eating.

Cloth bleached too long loses its weave. Threads cut
Bind nothing. The weft of the carpet raises a rash,
Too much flesh dust, not enough washing, I add to it
My own, wondering, how long it takes
A hair to decay out of half-life.


Bethany W. Pope is a UK-based writer originally from the Southern United States. She has lived in North Carolina, Scotland, the Philippines, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, Kansas, Texas, and Wales before settling in her current home in Wiltshire. She lived in an orphanage for three years before dropping out of high-school, but later continued her education at Mary Baldwin College where she earned her BA in English Literature. She went on to earn her Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from University of Wales Trinity Saint David and her PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University. Her first book, A Radiance is to be released by Cultured Llama in June, her second collection Persephone in the Underworld is to be published by Rufus Books.

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy: Featured Poet

Slipping down

Boxing Day, and when asked what you ate
for Christmas dinner you say,
‘I should remember’.

You are slumped in a high-backed chair,
covered with a name-labelled blanket:
someone else’s.

We are told that at the Christmas party
you boomed out the unerasable hymns,
rallied the others to sing.

Today you remember your daughter’s face,
not her name; and of your son you inquire,
‘Have we met?’

You search my face much longer than you
would have thought proper if you were not
as you are.

I am introduced, again, as ‘Rob’s friend.’
You scan from son to daughter,
and back again,

the half-formed thought refusing to set
like jelly made with too much water,
and you shout, ‘I’ll have to think about that.’

You’ve slipped further in your seat,
as your grandson does when watching TV.
Now it’s Roger Moore as James Bond and

the woman in the red sweater wanders
in front of the screen and demands,
‘Does anyone know what’s supposed to happen?’

Your hands are bony thin; your thumbnail
thickened like a split hoof; and as you slip further
your shirt breaks free from belted trousers.

I have seen old photos, tie and jacket,
dapper. A care worker says
‘We do put a tie on him,’

‘But there’s health and safety to consider.
Joggers, that’s what they need
when they get like that.’

Your skinny bottom changed by day
from too-loose pyjamas
to baby rompers.

Time to sit up for the latest snack: soup,
two triangles of bread and ham.
You are lifted by three tabarded women,

one at each arm, a third at your waist.
You growl as you are raised.
You want to be left to slip down.


Maria C. McCarthy writes poetry, short fiction and memoir, and has also written and broadcast as a columnist for BBC Radio 4’s Home Truths. Her first poetry collection, strange fruits, is published by Cultured Llama and WordAid to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. She writes in a shed at the end of her garden in a village in North Kent. Her website is www.medwaymaria.co.uk

‘Slipping Down’ is published in strange fruits available from www.culturedllama.co.uk