Monday, October 19, 2015

Cement Shoes - Judy Ireland (Evening Street Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Cement Shoes.  Judy Ireland.  Evening Street Press.  Dublin, Ohio.  2014.

Reading Judy Ireland's Cement Shoes is a little like sitting down with the best friend you have, you know the one I mean, the one that will cotton no bullshit.  Naturally they have a great sense of humour, otherwise how could they be trusted.  Friends like Ireland will say the hard thing.

Today's book of poetry was fully committed from the start.  Ireland's honesty is as vibrant as it is illuminating.

January - Dry Run Creek

Every year Dry Run Creek
is fed by January thaw.

Every year a boy falls
through the ice,
struggles for air,
too cold for words.

Every year they try
to revive him.

It almost never works.

You could line up all the mothers
on the bank, shoulder to shoulder.

With one breath
you could make them fall
like dominoes.


These poems can be haunting, when Ireland opens the gate her lament in tangible, the reader feels it in their bones.  These poems crawl over the catacombs of family, they damned near drown on remorse tinged loss, but they are always startlingly clear.

Ireland's Cement Shoes has poems filled with such delicate and endearing love and loss that your throat tightens and your mouth dries.  These frank poems sting.

Turning Fifty

I take my years to bed with me,
make room beneath my best-intentioned covers,
throw my arm across
and feel the lumpy consistency
of a life's body, aging.
I gather myself in -- restless limbs,
eyes that look for faces
that haven't seen light in years.

There were summers, before breasts,
when I played outdoors without a shirt.
Every third year, the lilac bush bloomed large,
and the liquid light-purple smell came in
through my bedroom window.
There were hard winters, when ice broke the surface
of everything, and frost made cruel floral patterns
on the glass outer door. There were years when
people died, and we kept putting on dresses.

This night will be too short.
I have save no one I intended.


Cement Shoes is solid, one of our biggest compliments here at Today's book of poetry.  Each and every poem in the collection is solid enough that you can step on it, by the end of this rock solid collection the reader has moved to higher ground, clearer perspective.

I felt emotionally involved with these poems from the first pages, invested.  I passed Cement Shoes around the office for our morning read.  Milo, who has taken a vow of silence, nodded his assent.  Our new intern Kathryn, who up until now has been as silent as Marcel Marceau, said that these poems "were some of the saddest sweet she'd ever gotten under her nails."  Then she kicked Milo's chair is an oddly gentle gesture of solidarity.

People used to sit up all night with the dead

so here I sit with you. No body, just your ghost,
probably waiting for me to make a move, like the girls
who used to fuck with me in high school, who waited
and then jumped around corners
as I walked, deep in thought.

I should get up and go to bed
but I cherish these throat-stopped hours
when grief is new, and it takes a chisel
to mark off the minutes, divide one day from another.
Time splits into before, and after.

When you can't sleep, my yoga teacher says,
lie down and find the place where your spine
needs a twist. Lie down, see where the truth
lies. As if it's somewhere in between
the box spring and the mattress.

I'm sitting here, saving up things I would tell you,
if you were to wake. I'd tell you what a brave
girl I was, how I knelt in the dirt, cupped a grasshopper
in my hands and let that green bug spit tobacco juice
all over my fingers. I'd tell you about the time
my sister and I sat face to face and touched tongues
for what seemed like hours, until a spark
of electricity flew between our two upper lips,
and we jerked apart, for forever.


Today's book of poetry is now a big admirer of Judy Ireland.  These honest poems can walk into any room and take a seat at the table.

Judy Ireland
photo by: Roosevelt

Judy Ireland’s poetry benefits from the verdancy and barefaced authenticity of the Midwest's working class culture, which keeps her work grounded and focused in the ordinary world, where extraordinary ideas reside with great subtlety and power. Her work is also influenced by the lush excesses of South Florida, where she currently lives and works. Her poems have appeared in Calyx, Saranac Review, Eclipse, Cold Mountain, Hotel Amerika, and other journals.

Early in Judy Ireland’s debut collection, in “Lot’s Wife,” the speaker laments “how unfair it was/to turn her into a pillar of salt when all she was doing/was looking.” Daring to look back carries risks—whether it’s seeing an Iowa landscape where “Seven AM hog reports on the radio” become a young girl’s “cement shoes” or a father who “voted for Nixon” and whose “shame for me/was a big flashlight” nonetheless lives on “in the dim sun/of my yearning”—but so does looking at the present carry risk, for a lover may suddenly announce as if she were “someone saying, ‘I’m partial to strawberries’” that she’s “afraid of dying.” Risk is everywhere in this collection—the rewards are these wonderful poems.
     —Stephen Gibson, author of Rorschach Art Too, 2014 Donald Justice Prize winner

Judy Ireland grew up wild with her sisters and their corn silk hair, barefoot in the dark Iowa earth. In the title poem of this beautiful collection, Cement Shoes, we hear the poet’s brother from his Harley tell her, … “your soul is different,/ your soul is full of books, / and your feet are in cement shoes.” He couldn’t be more right … cement carrying the landscape of Iowa, the land, the creeks, the earth, and the girls growing up among the rows of corn, whose “hair hung down, crazy silks among the rows; / banshees in the corn, …/. Here are lines that resonate long after reading these strong and radiant poems envisioned with an eye as clear as you might imagine an Iowa sky sees in reflection. Here is a poet grounded in her Iowa as in her poems … observant, wry and beautiful lines that weave to water’s edge, from Dry Run Creek, to New Orleans, to New York and back to Iowa … the poet tells us, “I have come so far from Iowa / only to find it in my body. / The blackest dirt on earth and I am every inch and acre of it./ bones planted deep, where no light nor rain can reach. The tall corn grows … and still my hair grows / like prairie.” This wildness pressing the edges of her lines, compels the poet’s voice in this gorgeous body of work. 
     —Susan R. Williamson, Director, Palm Beach Poetry Festival, author of Burning After Dark,           winner of the Hannah Kahn 25th Anniversary Chapbook Prize.

To hear Judy Ireland read some of her poems go to the following link:



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.