Wake: Up to Poetry
Poem of the Week: “The Exact Moment I Became a Poet” by Paula Meehan
Paula’s Meehan’s “The Exact Moment I Became a Poet” recounts the injurious, if inspiring, tale of when the poet as a child first understood the emotional gravity that words contain. First printed in Meehan’s fifth volume Dharmakaya, the poem is reprinted in Meehan’s most new selected poems, As If By Magic. The collection, encompassing Meehan’s works over the past three decades, illuminates Meehan’s compelling talent and artistic legacy within contemporary Irish poetry. Meehan has held the esteemed position of the Ireland Chair of Poetry for her uniquely feminist voice and poetry capturing working-class Ireland.
The Exact Moment I Became a Poet
for Kay Foran
was in 1963 when Miss Shannon
rapping the duster on the easel’s peg
half obscured by a cloud of chalk
said Attend to your books, girls,
or mark my words, you’ll end up
in the sewing factory.
It wasn’t just that some of the girls’
mothers worked in the sewing factory
or even that my own aunt did,
and many neighbours, but
that those words ‘end up’ robbed
the labour of its dignity.
Not that I knew it then,
not in those words—labour, dignity.
That’s all back construction,
making sense; allowing also
the teacher was right
and no one knows it like I do myself.
But: I saw them: mothers, aunts and neighbours
trussed like chickens
on a conveyor belt,
getting sewn up the way my granny
sewed the sage and onion stuffing
in the birds.
Words could pluck you,
leave you naked,
your lovely shiny feathers all gone.