Moya Cannon

Collected Poems​

ISBN: 978 1 800170 32 2
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Published: February 2021
216 x 135 mm
256 pages
Publisher: Carcanet Press

Vogelherd Horse, 30,000 BC

Art, it would seem, is born like a foal that can walk straight away.
John Berger

The horse is half the length
of my little finger —
cut from mammoth ivory
its legs have been snapped off,
three at the haunch,
the fourth above the knee
but its neck, arched as a Lippizaner’s,
its flared nostrils,
are taut with life.

The artist or shaman who carved it
as totem, ornament or toy
could hardly have envisioned
that horses would grow tall,
would be bridled, saddled,
that of all the herds of mammoths,
lords of the blond steppes,
not one animal would survive,
that the steppes would dwindle,
that, in the stacked mountains to the south,
rivers would alter course

but that this horse would gallop on
across ten thousand years of ice,
would see the deaths, the mutations of species
would observe the burgeoning of one species,
Homo faber, the maker,
who had made him,
or, who, using a stone or bone knife,
had sprung him from the mammoth’s tusk,
had buffed him with sand,
taking time with the full cheeks, the fine chin,
and had set him down on the uneven floor
of the Vogelherd cave
to ride time out.

Irish Times 08/05/2021    Sean Hewitt  

Moya Cannon’s Collected Poems (Carcanet, 344pp. £16.99) brings together six collections with a new introduction by the poet.  Across three decades of work, these poems demonstrate the marked consistency of a poet whose early collections are accomplished and assured, and who knows how to take her time, and how best to use it.  There is an admirable self-awareness in Cannon’s work, a confidence in the power and resilience of quiet work:

There are small, unassailable words
that diminish Caesars;
territories of the voice
that intimate across death and generation

Always musical, holding to the truth of a poetry embedded in, and in some ways sung out of , the landscape, Cannon has the skill to balance ideas that might appear lofty and untethered in lesser hands.  Evolution, anthropology, carvings on cave walls and the testimony of manuscripts call on “the power / of an inked feather, / of the quartz seam / ticking under the heather.” to sing across and make sense of deep time and wide geographies.  This is an essential book for anyone interested in contemporary Irish poetry.  If, for Emily Dickinson, a good poem should make one feel as though the top of one’s head were taken off, Moya Cannon’s have the effect of blowing an ember, of kindling a light, revealing the strange images passed down to us:

Did you know, you make my head flame.
Blue flames and purple flames leap about my head.
I had once a thousand tongues
but tonight
my head is crashing through the sky
my head is flaming on a dish.

My love,
carry it in carefully,
my love,
carry it in with trumpets.