Anne Walsh Donnelly’s debut collection, Odd As F*ck is a fearless triumph of poetic voice. These accomplished poems harness the gamut of emotions that make up a life. Each stanza plumbs depth of feeling with a sincerity that resonates, but also moves on to remind us of the impermanence of it all. Life is full of unexpected moments, trials and exultation, so too is this incredible collection of poems.
To Lean In
I didn’t rage, rationalise,
ignore or trivialise.
I just sat on the bath’s lip
and cried, knowing
I would not be swept away.
–I Sat With Grief, Anne Walsh Donnelly, Odd As F*ck
In a world where life is curated via social media and we are assaulted with the toxicity of “Good Vibes Only”, it is refreshing to read such an open response to the emotion of grief. For me the brilliance in this poem is in the perspective. I can read it a few ways and either way, it still maintains the power of resonance. Donnelly opens by telling us: She came after the children/were fed and put to bed. This ‘she’ is so palpably real that I can actually imagine that someone is there with our narrator, being that shoulder to cry on or that person we can always lean into. But sometimes that doesn’t happen, for whatever reason. Being alone forces us to avoid ourselves and emotions or meet them head on. There’s rarely too much foggy in between time.
So reading closer, the ‘she’ could be grief. That’s the most obvious answer, I mean the clue is in the title. The most interesting part about the title is that it seems very passive, sitting with grief- but there’s nothing passive about this poetry, at all. In fact, grief is a gentle caretaker in these stanzas. Grief is doing all the things we’d like to do for self care but can’t be bothered with when the emotion is overwhelming. The juxtaposition about grief as a giver, when I’ve often viewed grief as a taker (taking loved ones, opportunities, hope, etc) is akin to a great reveal I never knew could exist. This is the kind of poetry that seeps into my bones, with details that pull me into the language and offer me something new.
The Things We Say (To Ourselves)
I lick seeds from passion fruit for breakfast.
It’s a bowl of porridge you should be eating.
I flick through the latest copy of Diva magazine.
Since when did you stop reading Good Housekeeping?
I write a poem about having sex at sixty.
You should be knitting scarfs for grandchildren.
–Talk To Me Like Lovers Do, Anne Walsh Donnelly, Odd As F*ck
This conversation between narrator and the inner ‘self’ is so familiar to me. Oh, I have different specific conversations, but they often sound along the same chime. I love how even as we continue down the poem with the first line being our narrator and the second being that inner critic, the narrator just keeps pushing on. Every line of that dialogue punches with action: I slip/I clasp/I gaze/I button/I pull/I squeeze/I spike/I lick/I flick/I write. Our narrator is getting on with the things she wants to do in the way that she wants to do them and I find that empowering.
Sometimes it can feel impossible to stop that voice that tells us we are ridiculous/too old/not good enough, but this poem shows it IS possible to continue moving on and living the life we want to live. I had to go back to the title and really think about relationships. Over a course of the relationship we change, people are changing constantly. Sometimes these are in small ways and sometimes its much more fundamental. But all of our changes add up and we can grow closer through them or push apart. I think this can be true for our inner self, as well. I have a graveyard of self critics that started out by encouraging me and telling me I could do anything. We grew apart- like lovers do.
As I was reading this, I thought about the courage of the narrator. And I will admit, I was cheering her on. I think it would have been interesting to end the poem with the line from the narrator and not from the critic- but that’s a poet’s choice and it’s powerful either way.
‘I’m sorry but I can’t catch every nightmare you have.’
‘Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do,’ I muttered,
hunting for a clean pair of knickers.
‘You had me working overtime last night,’ she said.
‘I’m not Wonder Woman.’
–Dreamcatcher, Anne Walsh Donnelly, Odd As F*ck
Section VII of this collection, titled “Voices”, is absolutely my favourite part of the book. I devoured each poem and then went and read them again. Donnelly has a gift for telling me a story that makes me laugh and then pulls me up short with unexpected depth. Healing is not a linear process, no matter how much we’d like it to be. I feel like my survival and recovery from trauma is something akin to a spirograph that runs all over the page of my life. Sometimes I end up overlapping into old territory and I throw my hands up thinking, “This? Again?”.
This poem is funny and it squeezes my heart at the same time, because I feel the truth of experience in it. We can do all of the right things. For me, that was going to therapy and doing the hard work. It was engaging in mindfulness, meditation and treating my body better. It was having all kinds of tools in my mental toolbox to leverage when I needed them. But, I’ll be honest. I was kind of hoping I’d never need them. And so when something shows up that triggers my CPTSD, I tend to wonder why, when I’ve done all the things!
So yeah, I want to shake my fist at our narrator’s dreamcatcher for falling asleep on the job. But, I also get where the dreamcatcher is coming from here too. And that’s what makes me smile, because in the end the conversation with the dreamcatcher does help our narrator in determining a ‘duvet day’ is in order. Sometimes the tools we have work in unexpected ways.
This debut poetry collection is stunning in its depth, breadth and humour surrounding the human experience. Anne Walsh Donnelly is easily a favourite poet of mine and this work just cements that opinion. She has the courage to say and show things as they are, instead of how we wish them to be. The truth is, we’re all Odd As F*ck. Donnelly knows that and isn’t afraid to say it.
Odd As F*ck, by Anne Walsh Donnelly, is available for purchase through Fly on The Wall Press.
About the Author
ANNE WALSH DONNELLY writes poetry, prose and plays. She is a single mother of two teenagers. Originally from Carlow in the south-east of Ireland, she now lives in Mayo in the west of Ireland.
Anne says, “I experiment, take risks, run wild on the page, always hoping my work will resonate with the reader. I write my emotional truth and bring my whole-self to my writing.”
She has been described by the Irish poet, Kevin Higgins as “a poet of exceptional bravery, a pretty sensational original voice. I hope the poetry world doesn’t tame her, though no doubt it will try.”
About the Press
FLY ON THE WALL PRESS is a social enterprise company and a not for profit publisher, based in Manchester. They publish high quality anthologies on pressing issues, chapbooks and poetry products, from exceptional poets around the globe, with socially conscious themes.