Reflections in times of loss
by Anne Hartigan, with a foreword by Victoria Glendinning.
This book of poetry and prose was written to help to those experiencing loss and grief.
"These are writings for now, when many need a different way to express their loss (and may or may not choose a religious ceremony,) linked with the traditional ways we in Ireland cope with grief, and honour our dead," says Hartigan. "There is a universal need for ritual and ceremony."
"Religions have over the centuries developed rituals that provide a path for people to travel towards an acceptance of death, a form through which we can channel grief. Today some of us do not feel part of any religion. So our rituals around death may be out of step with life as we live it now. We are inventing our own rituals and searching for new words to help us express our grief and find some consolation," says writer Anne Le Marquand Hartigan.
Her new book To Keep The Light Burning, is a collection of personal prose and poems, many of which author Anne Hartigan feels could be read aloud at funerals, burials or cremations, as well as privately by the individual reader to help cope with grief.
After an important friend of Anne Hartigan's died in August 2001, followed just days later by the atrocities of 9/11, she was so keenly aware of the depth of loss suffered that she decided to put together a collection of poems and prose, with the aim of helping other people going through the trauma of bereavement and loss. "These two griefs became the force and energy that fuelled the making of this book".
"Several of these poems have already found their way into the hearts of the bereaved and have been found completely 'right'," says award-winning writer Victoria Glendinning in her foreword to the book.
Mark Patrick Hederman OSB, Abbot at Glenstal Abbey, writes that this book "talks about death without flinching. It is not sentimental or sanctimonious. It gathers us around the emptiness and offers, calm, truthful, reassuring words, 'human and comforting'."
Fintan O'Toole kindly launched this book in St. Stephen's Green, Dublin and Soprano, Elizabeth Hilliard, sang a piece from the work, composed for the occasion by composer Gráinne Mulvey.
Publisher: Salmon Poetry
After rain, things clear.
Although the soft hills
Lie dumb in the rising mist,
And over the hanging barley
Swifts curve and twist
Letters into the moist air.
Birds sing back the sun,
Now no blasting,
Only poppies scream, but muted,
We need gentling,
The winds are not around.
Insects are out;
Grass head and butterflies
Is being born.
Nessa O'Mahony on The Irish Times wrote:
To Keep The Light Burning (Salmon Poetry) by Anne Le Marquand Hartigan is a mixture of poems and prose pieces designed to help those experiencing loss and grief. There is an introduction by Mark Patrick Hederman of Glenstal Abbey.
Some of the poems are taken from Anne's previous collections, published by Salmon Poetry and Beaver Row Press. The poems are arranged with a piece of prose introducing each one.
'What is poetry for?' is the question pedantic little men like to ask. Well, one of the things poetry is for is those occasions - be they joyful or sorrowful - when the ordinary words of everyday speech fail to adequately express what needs to be said.
'Heart's Blood' - on the death of a child - is a poem which, for me, brought to mind my cousin Robert who was barely a toddler when he died: "May you live in/warmlight/in kind gardens/with soft air/with light, loves, birds,/doves - animals to/play with you".
The final poem is 'Weighing Things Up - Four Sons to Carry My Coffin': "I will be the last weight on your shoulders/the groove of wood cutting down on your bone."
Poetry cannot repair our grief, no more than it can change the world, but it can help us put things in perspective at crucial times. One of the few things of which we can be certain is that each of us in turn will be visited some day by grief.
February 12, 2009.
A poetry collection whose avowed aim is to provide poems that could be read at a funeral might appear depressing, but To Keep the Light Burning, by Anne Le Marquand Hartigan, is anything but grim. Many of the poems collected here are drawn from Hartigan's five previous collections or else have appeared in anthologies.
Each is accompanied by a prose essay that explains the poem's background or meditates on its theme.
There are beautiful poems here that would certainly provide solace to the bereaved. In "Apples" we are shown the natural cycle of death and rebirth: Slowly trees present their bones
shed, are stark, gaunt and grim,
leaving is a dying art
necessary to begin.
But it is also a very brave book; Hartigan is facing down her own mortality while comforting others and concludes that there is nothing at all to fear.
March 7, 2009