‘Possibility exists in the spaces between’
I’ve known Karen Mooney for over two years now, first introduced to her as she read her poem I Touched You, as part of the Women Aloud NI event at the Eastside Arts Festival in Belfast, now available to watch on YouTube, a poem at the height of Covid about touch that leapt over the 4th wall of the computer screen and trembled itself along my entire being.
Since then, I’ve heard her read many more times at many open mic nights on zoom, devoured the poignant collection she co-wrote with Gaynor Kane Penned In and was in awe of her ability to put everyone at ease and stir the conversation so eloquently when she was co-host, also with Gaynor Kane, of the launch of In the Jitterfritz of Neon, the conversational poetry pamphlet co-written by Eilín de Paor and myself, recorded together in Belfast which was the first time I met Karen in person, although at that point, having known each other online for so long, it felt like we’d known each other for years. However, having just finished reading Missing Pieces I’m aware that my knowledge of Karen has only just begun and what better place to start than joining her for this collection examining the cracks, fissures or missing pieces that cannot be returned to the soul, no matter how much we want to be whole again.
This is a collection of poems coming to terms with loss, looking back to the attachment before it was torn away to see if there was a suggestion of how it was going to hurt. Karen, putting every wound under the microscope of these lines, writes with immense intimacy here, each word carefully selected to fit the page, the person depicted or to set the scene – from kitchen, heart of every home, to the car, the bedside, the rose garden and inside the offerings of a jewellery box. There is a gentle but welcomed deception amid all these words, a gift of light before the flame blows out, especially in the opening poem – pastoral and patient till the final stanza appears with its empty carrycot in the corner.
From routine wash days to coming in to see how to light a fire, to understanding what it takes to keep it going and learning how to put it out again, if necessary. Memories here are ripples, coming in and out of focus on the viscus of a reduction that leaves us wanting more. Even in the preparation of a vegetable soup, the simple details are what draws us into what’s really happening behind the pealing and stirring and trying to find ways to taste again – the refusal to chop onions so tears won’t fall, the soup-stained ceilings, the unfamiliar territory – finding your way around someone else’s kitchen without them as you use their recipe to make their final supper.
In Search of the Right Note, a very short poem, lays out the entire focus of this collection- a song that was once sung now repeated, but no longer in the right key. The loss here comes in all forms, in all shades, winter falling in the garden, a season of Princesses -lilies of the valley leaving too soon, though not all endings here could be buried, some were separations – there were no flowers or cards of condolence, yet there was a death, the death of us.
The overriding connections here to mother and father are a testament to a bond unbreakable, despite all that is missing. Again and again we are shown the struggle of preparing to move on, father and daughter trying to see the route ahead, trunk weighted down by all they couldn’t bring with them. Alpha-male widower, trying to a teach a teenage girl to grow, live, proceed with caution, drive down roads without mothers, how to check under cars before turning on ignitions in Northern Ireland in the 80s and later, daughter becoming the epitome of Care, Curtesy and Consideration as she becomes carer despite its own challenges – but today, you were exasperation like a dry shave with a blunt blade while never forgetting those tiny tender details that make this collection so surprisingly comforting, despite the sadness, like an unexpected embrace. Even in poems like Last Rites, there are such microscopic nuances, reflections of the life that has been lived along with all it takes to let it pass on – her cradling your face in pillow-soft breasts; prompting memories.
Light trickles throughout all the cracks, the connection, the consideration, the comfort despite the loss and bursts through the open wounds, like the roots Mum grew before she was cut down after the first blush in early summer which brings us back to the cover art, those golden fractures of love and life that may also be roots – replanted, solidifying new connections as evident in the final poem for Stanley, a vessel of hope in itself, despite its jagged edges. Some things you lose, some things get lost, and some things come back in – odd bits coming together to make, perhaps, some things feel, almost, whole again.
This is an earnest collection of honesty that goes beyond how to cope and explores, beautifully, how we break. Missing Pieces delicately examines the parts we’re often not given the time to consider. This is Karen Mooney, showing all that has broken and, by doing so, the fragments have become poems that are her very best.
Karen is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/1karenmooney
Missing Pieces is available with proceeds from signed author copies donated to Marie Curie UK/Marie Curie – Northern Ireland, link below…
Karen will be reading from Missing Pieces very soon on the Eat the Storms poetry podcast, keep an eye and ear out for that!