Jessamine O Connor is a Dublin born poet living on the Sligo Roscommon border in the west of Ireland. She facilitates The Hermit Collective (an award-winning arts group), and the weekly creative writing group The Wrong Side of the Tracks Writers. She coordinates conversational English classes for Ballaghaderreen Failte Isteach and is involved in a shared storytelling project. PACT is her fifth poetry chapbook since 2013, and in 2020 Salmon Poetry will be publishing her first collection. O Connor is the winner of the Poetry Ireland Butler’s Café Competition (2017), the iYeats Award (2011) and the Francis Ledwidge Award (2011), as well as being shortlisted for several other awards between 2010 and 2018.
PACT is a self-published collection of poems. Reading self-published poetry is always a bit of a risk because you can never guarantee the quality of the text, but PACT is a real treasure. It is a polished, uncluttered series of poems, fearlessly exploring the realities of life. O Connor draws you into her world, and you feel connected with the themes and feelings expressed. It's almost like you are sat together, putting the world to rights over a glass of wine. This sharing of secrets is emphatic from the start; in her title poem she uses simple staccato words to describe the sound of the crows that used to congregate around the roof of her house and then in the last verse the pace slows down:
I miss their eternal silhouette standing guard on the pot,
On the house, over me, underneath, dislodging their foundation,
Whispering up our secret.
I like how O Connor challenges the modern self-obsessed mindset in `When I grow up`.
When I grow up I want to be fashionable.
I want to throw away clothes every season
and wear what’s new.
I don’t want to think about who makes the clothes, or how young,
Or exhausted, or mistreated they are, I want to be cool.
This is a poem that exposes our true intentions as human beings, and the raw truth of it made me cringe a little. It is immediately followed by `There was no Funeral`, about loss and society’s oblivious approach to it. The juxtaposition of the two poems suggests that our priorities are pretty messed up.
O Connor touches on themes such as pollution, domestic violence, old age and death, the quest for perfection, war, poverty and homelessness. The poem `Notice` is a painful recollection of a disrupted childhood; a young girl and her mother being forced to move from one undesirable location to the next, trying to find somewhere to call home.
and it took years
to learn that we can paint the walls, put up shelves, pictures,
or take them down, grow food, shift things around,
that it’s allowed – no one is coming to throw us out
So, my children don’t know what it’s like yet to move, be insecure,
To not know where you’re going to be, or for how long,
To keep everything always half unpacked-
But I will never forget.
The collection is also infused with hope and humour throughout. There’s the delightful eroticism of `Organic`, the list `Christmas list` poem ( where Vajazzles, Magic knickers and Anal bleaching are discussed), and the short poem `Stubble` about the intricacies of kissing a man with a beard. O Connor uses a variety of different techniques that constantly offer up delightful little surprises. The way she shapes the words, the sounds she uses, and the simple, unpretentious language make this collection an absolute must for your bookshelf. I read it a few times over and enjoyed it more each time. Although hard to choose a favourite, `Welcome - the island speaks to refugees` would be a valid contender. It reminds me of what it means for us to be truly human and that life is not just about protecting our small privileged corner of existence.
the island speaks to refugees
I open up my craggy arms, my cliffs,
this shift of whirling gulls,
stretch my beaches wide,
reach out my hands
made of coral, stone and sand,
scatter islands like roses
or breadcrumbs, to show you
where to land
and when you’re close enough
I’ll lift up the rough cloth
of my hedges, fields and loughs,
wrap its patchwork cloak around you,
gather the lush green folds
and rolls of sequin blues
to make an earth cocoon
for you to grow in
because when you’re rested
and ready to stir
it will be my pleasure
to watch your wings unfold,
unfurl in my cloud-thick hair,
sprout your new roots feet deep
into my lungs and feed me
your fresh air.
You can buy a copy of PACT from the author’s website: https://www.jessamineoconnor.com/