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Poem Of The Week: ‘Asylum’ By Róisín Tierney
Steve Whitaker, Literary Correspondent
Róisín Tierney
There is a resolute counterpoint in Róisín Tierney’s fine poem: conceived in the most achingly tender of forms, it deals with the least lyrical of subjects – febrile, all-consuming mental illness.

But it is tempered by its own irony; the bitterness of pain remembered, of frantic voices screamed into empty darkness, are carried away on the same high tide which submerges the narrator in protean, helpless kinship.

Asylum

Here where the mad or irretrievably broken,
the hopelessly sorrowful, the overwrought,
hearers of voices, demonic choirs,
lay themselves down, lay down to rest,

I claim kin, through blood, through water,
the high-tide mark of the highly strung.
Grandmother, great-uncle, favourite auntie,
all lay down, lay down and slept

by the lakeshore of the county asylum,
psychiatric facility, Clonmel, St John’s.
Took benzodiazepines, had ECT,
and spoke and wept, spoke and wept.


The sense of abandonment is ironic because enchained; the process of drowning seems inevitable because the impulsion towards this place of collective suffering is nourished by heredity, by blood. The flotsam of conditions, of psychotic idiosyncrasies, which Tierney casts into the water look and sound like experience as they float down forgotten corridors, into side rooms, until the ‘demonic choirs’ and hopeless sorrows are temporarily stilled by tranquillisers or electroconvulsive therapy.

And there is a suggestion of darkness in the poem’s relentless interiority, of neglect and abuse in remote wards of remote asylums. The desire for sleep is desperate amongst the clamouring of history’s ghosts; the speaking, and the weeping, are rehearsed endlessly.

‘Asylum’ is taken from The Spanish-Italian Border and is published by Arc Publications.

Poem Of The Week: ‘Asylum’ By Róisín Tierney, 1st January 2019, 17:12 PM