Aifric Mac Aodha was born in Dublin in 1979. Her first collection, Gabháil Syrinx (The Capture of Syrinx) was edited by Pádraig Ó Fiannachta and published by An Sagart in 2010. She is the Irish-language poetry editor of Comhar and The Stinging Fly. At University College, Dublin, she studied Old Irish and Modern Irish. Her profound knowledge of the Gaelic tradition, as well as Greek mythology, has produced many erudite poems, which is not to say that these poems appeal solely to the intellect. Striking imagery and deceptively simple language bypass the intellect and provoke a lingering emotional response. These emotive evocations can be felt in the dreamlike sequence of ‘Turas na mBolcán’ (Journey of the Volcanoes).
Like Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Mac Aodha weaves the concerns of contemporary life into mythologies of the past. ‘The Adventure of Conlae’ refers to a story in which the hero is seduced by a mysterious woman from the Otherworld and, after some hesitation, decides to set sail with her on a crystal boat. Mac Aodha contrasts Conlae’s decision to leave with that of Joyce’s Eveline to stay. ‘Conlae Speaks’ imagines the eerie, nightmarish sea voyage of Conlae, finishing with a triad – a literary device frequent in Old Irish literature.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of Mac Aodha’s work is her depiction of the vulnerability of love. Mac Aodha’s sensibility and delicate touch are evident in the poems ‘In My Defence’ and ‘Buaine’. In the former poem, horses’ skulls were placed in the corners of the dance hall so the dancers’ steps would resonate. The skulls here represent the anxiety that so often accompanies love.
The title poem of her collection Gabháil Syrinx, ‘The Capture of Syrinx’, and its partner poem ‘Syrinx Escape’ contain resplendent images from nature. Terse lines and rhymed quatrains are reminiscent of early Irish lyrics.
The influence of Biddy Jenkinson can be detected in the poems ‘The Poet’ and ‘Blas ar an mBeagán’ – a certain playfulness in the latter; the story told with relish. In ‘The Poet’ we are told that raw cat meat provided sustenance to the poet according to Irish folklore. It is a fitting image given Mac Aodha’s readiness to explore the most intimate aspects of the human condition.
Gabháil Syrinx is a highly accomplished début collection that locates Mac Aodha’s work comfortably within the Gaelic tradition. Yet her respect for this tradition, for the language and traditional forms do not constrain her considerable poetic talent. Her carefully wrought lyrics are intuitive, compelling and insightful. Treise léi.
Gabháil Syrinx, An Sagart, Dingle, 2010 ISBN 978-1903896631