It is a story of babies being removed from their mothers and their homeland, or left behind with no identity papers. Ní Churreáin is traveling from Dublin to Taos to read this and other selections from "Bloodroot."
In the six stanzas comprising "Six Ways to Wash Your Hands (Ayliffe 1978)," Irish poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin heartbreakingly recounts one of the darkest episodes in her country's history. It is a story of a population deemed undesirable and marginalized by their forced existence behind impenetrable walls.
It is a story of babies being removed from their mothers and their homeland, or left behind with no identity papers. It is a story of survivors, who grapple throughout their lives to find their name, their family, their roots.
Ní Churreáin is traveling from Dublin to Taos to read this and other selections from "Bloodroot," her award-winning debut collection of poetry. She will be appearing Monday (Feb. 25), 7 p.m., at SOMOS, 108 Civic Plaza Drive. Admission is free.
" 'Six Ways' is both an autobiographical and historical poem, written for the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation," she said, referencing Ireland's recently launched probe into the long-standing institutions to which the "fallen" -- unwed mothers -- were forcibly sent with the hope of redemption.
"My grandmother gave birth to my father in County Westmeath's Castlepollard Home," which closed in 1971 after four decades of operation under the Sacred Heart Order of nuns, she said. "I visited Castlepollard one day and it was just a derelict shell of itself and, as I walked the grounds, I found in a pile of debris a laminated card which was obviously instructions to the health workers of the home on how to wash their hands. I knew I had to write about it."
She said these homes illustrated "a problematic system in Ireland that used religion and the laws of the land to separate families, traffic children into foster care or adoption, yet who also floundered under a lack of resources such as medical care or social workers," she continued. Tragically, many infants died in the homes. "Because of my own connection to this system, I wished to honor the losses incurred by these separations through my creative voice."
Ní Churreáin explained there are many advocates whose goals are to help survivors of the homes to seek birth data and lineage ties. Although many records never existed or were expunged, "when people have information about their roots, about their past, then they are better equipped to move positively into the next chapter of their lives," she said.
The poet is the oldest of her biological siblings, but her parents fostered over 30 children, of whom she said, "There were often essential reasons for their fostering, but some came simply because the family couldn't access the resources they needed to keep themselves together."
She remains close to many of her foster siblings because, she said, "love makes a family; not blood."
In subsequent sections, "Bloodroot" brilliantly expands beyond the stories of the lost children into searing, searching journeys through the landscapes of burgeoning adulthood and beyond.
"My observations become more political, reflecting my increasing awareness of such things as tabloid stories, which seemed to put women on trial through the media and of how single mothers should be treated," she recalled. "I also analyze the influence of mythical elements related to our ancient, pre-Christian language.
"In the final section of 'Bloodroot' I'm exploring the impact of my extensive travels through such places as India, how adult relationships evolve, and the complexity of women's voices," she continued. "That was a period in my life of intense self-reflection and heightened my interest into the examination of origins and roots, and our connections to our landscape. Are we completely tied to the place in which we were born?"
Ní Churreáin's poem "Wall" is prefaced by a quotation from the late Mexican poet Rosario Castellanos, a renowned champion against cultural and gender oppression. When asked about the coincidence with U.S. media headlines, she said, "In fact, I wrote 'Wall' shortly after your 2016 election. And my inclusion of Castellanos was not a coincidence. We in Ireland follow your politics closely; I follow them closely. The rhetoric I've heard and my reaction to this dialogue is reflected in the poem, using a voice for which I have profound admiration."
Because, she said, there is little difference between the plight of last century's rural Irish women and contemporary Latinas who squarely face the demons of the law of the land. There is little difference in their hopes for the future of their children. There is little difference in the pain of separation. There is little difference in wanting to find a forgiving landscape in which we hope to flourish.
In addition to her stellar poetry, Ní Churreáin is a creative writing facilitator in the educational, health care and prison systems of Ireland. "Together we mine stories of love and loss -- the most prevailing human emotions -- and shape and craft stories that give an unprecedented perspective on the world."
Anticipating her first upcoming trip to New Mexico, which includes readings in Albuquerque and Santa Fe as well as at SOMOS, Ní Churreáin said, "I've heard you also have there an ancient landscape, full of history and stories and beauty which I am excited to experience."
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