I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Those Who Remain

Those Who Remain

Julia O’Mahony
Off Duty, by Katie Donovan, Bloodaxe Books, 96 pp, £9.95, ISBN: 978-1780373164 Off Duty, the most recent collection by Irish poet Katie Donovan, presents an uncensored look at the realities of living and caring for someone with a terminal illness. Though the collection offers an unflinching assessment of Donovan’s late husband’s deteriorating condition, crucially the poet evaluates herself with a similarly microscopic gaze, powerfully articulating her inner emotional life as a carer and regularly confronting her own flaws as she suppresses a tide of contradictory feelings. Naturally, Donovan’s account of her own lived experience does not exist in a vacuum, and some of the greatest strengths of the work lie in her ability to tiptoe around the trauma of events beyond her control and still make the space to acknowledge the chance fragments of joy she experiences as she continues to raise her young family. Donovan’s frankness does at times makes for uncomfortable reading, yet this offset by a true tenderness and lucidity. A wry sense of humour still rings through the darkness, not altogether stifled by the long shadow cast by her husband’s illness. It’s also perhaps unexpected that a collection charged with narrating a death would have so much vitality within its pages ‑ what Peggy O’Brien has called Donovan’s “remarkable fertility with imagery” which “serves a profound exploration of the first and last mysteries of the flesh”. Donovan’s children are certainly the agents of spiritedness throughout the work, as their mother gazes anew at human life, and those poems specifically detailing Donovan’s relationship with her daughter provide particularly compelling accounts of childish incredulity. Off Duty also contains affecting poems about external events that have struck the poet, such as the flooding of Prague in 2002, or more chillingly, Andrea Yeates’s drowning of her five children in a bathtub. Donovan’s poem “Labour”, dedicated to the memory of Savita Halappanavar, offers an unnervingly mechanical, almost dystopian account of giving birth in modern Ireland, as unsettling as it is pertinent. A supporting cast of characters from Donovan’s own life also flit through the collection: taxi drivers, electricians, doctors and the postman. Their inclusion achieves a similar effect to that in the final stanza of Philip Larkin’s “Aubade”, where he concludes with the lines: “Work has to be done./ Postmen like doctors go from house to house”. “Aubade” grapples with the poet’s sheer terror of his own mortality and yet ends by…

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