Poems for a Rainy Day
A review of Anne Walsh Donnelly’s The Woman With an Owl Tattoo
Anne Walsh Donnelly’s debut poetry collection, The Woman With an Owl Tattoo, delights with its casual and intimate language. These 29 short poems draw on Donnelly’s experiences in the west of Ireland and coming out as a lesbian in her 50s. The poems are both earthy and sensual, proving a strong appeal to my Taurus sensibilities.
Donnelly greets the reader like an old friend, opening with the poem “Guide to Becoming a Writer,” which includes lines such as “You’ll never become a real writer if you jump into the river. / Convince yourself the world needs your poems.” These lines read as familiar gospel to every despairing wordsmith faced with a blank page. This poem invites the reader along on the author’s journey, and functions as a rationale for the entire body of work, a window into Donnelly’s origin story, doubts, and the drive that fuels her.
Many of the poems in The Woman With an Owl Tattoo center around coming out and desire. Several of her coming-out poems are titled after important people in her life whom she comes out to: her daughter, son, mother, father, therapist, and, ultimately, herself. There is more unsaid in these than said. “Coming Out to My Father” reminds me of my own coming-out story, my father’s measured silences and pragmatic response. Coming out is a language all its own, one universally understood in the queer lexicon, and it was easy to draw parallels to my own experiences.
My favorite poem in the collection, “Mná na hÉireann (Women of Ireland),” serves as a quintessential ode to lesbian desire. I highly recommend you read this treat aloud to a lover curled up in your bed. The lines are spare and celebrate small things — gardening with short fingernails, another woman’s body, underwear flung on the floor. Donnelly writes, “How could you not want / to feel your edges / slip into her hollows, like a spoon / folding flour into cake batter,” a line that will stay with me for years to come. The domestic image satisfies completely, the simple language giving off a cozy, steadying warmth.
Another delight is “Someone to Watch Over Me,” a poem that exudes aching tenderness. It wins runner-up for my favorite in the book, and manages to encapsulate the protective feeling of watching a lover sleep. It is another short snack, encouraging the reader to slow down and savor its heartfelt sentiment.
The Woman With an Owl Tattoo is a poetry collection I recommend to those who marvel at a clear night sky full of stars, or those who pause and admire an enormous oak tree. I recommend it to those who revel in earthly comforts and embrace their desires. The poems feel as though they have been rough-hewn out of Donnelly’s psyche. I admit to the occasional Google search for an Irish turn of phrase, but it added to the book’s charm and authenticity. Alternating between cheeky, romantic, sensual, and moody, the poems bring fresh joy to ordinary moments and an understated Irish warmth to the genre.
...a window into Donnelly’s origin story, doubts, and the drive that fuels her.
REVIEWED BY SUSANNE SALEHI
Susanne is a queer writer and Memphis expat residing in Atlanta. She has written for Bleating Heart Press and Catalyst Wedding Co. and gives what’s left of her rage to rugby. She provides professional writing services here and will begin her MFA at Sewanee School of Letters in 2020. You can follow her Instagram @bookishcreature if you need more pictures of cats and books in your life.