Kerry Hardie


1951- ; b. in Singapore, brought up in Co. Down; worked for BBC (NI), in Belfast as radio researcher and interviewer; first published In Sickness: Poems (1995) as an Honest Ulsterman pamphlet, reflecting her experience as a victim of Legionnaire’s disease (the M.E. virus); twice winner of Women’s National Poetry Prize, as well as ASRvon, Cardiff, Peterloo and Hennessy Awards; winner of the UK National Poetry Award; issued A Furious Place (1996);
issued The Sky Didn’t Fall (2003), a collection of poems set in Achill and Switzerland, winner of Michael Harnett Award; also novels, Hannie Bennet’s Winter Marriage (2000) and The Bird Woman (2006), the latter about a natural healer in Belfast; edited Ink Bottle (2001), an anthology, with Mark Roper for the Kilkenny County Council; issued The Silence Came Close (2006), poems; issued The Bird Woman (2006), a novel concerning Ellen, a refugee from war-torn Belfast living in Kilkenny with a new partner, who reluctantly discovers a gift of healing - praised in reviews by Alice Sebold and others;
winner of O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award (Univ. of St Thomas, Minnesota, 2004 ($5,000). elected to Aosdána, 28 March 2007; issued Only This Room (2009); Selected Poems (2010); Hardie suffered from ME for five years, and was virtually invalided, an affliction reflected in her poems; she is married to Seán Hardie, a TV executive and a writer.

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‘These are our days ... There is nothing to do in the world / except live in it’. (Only This Room, 2009).

  • In Sickness: Poems (Belfast: Honest Ulsterman Publ. 1995), 17pp. [incl. free with HU 100th issue];
  • A Furious Place (Dublin: Gallery 1996), 56pp.;
  • Camping [Broadsheet, n.s., No. 12 (London: Bernard Stone, Turret Books 1997), 1 sh. [21cm.]
  • Cry for the Hot Belly (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2000), 60pp.;
  • The Sky Didn’t Fall (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2003), 64pp.;
  • The Silence Came Close (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2006), 79pp.
  • Only This Room (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2009), 80pp.
  • Selected Poems (Oldcastle: Gallery Press [distrib. by Bloodaxe in UK] 2011), 96pp.
  • Hannie Bennet’s Winter Marriage (London: HarperCollins 2000), 410pp.;
  • The Bird Woman (London: HarperCollins 2006), 375pp.
  • ed., with Mark Roper, Ink Bottle: New Writing from Kilkenny (Kilkenny Co. Council 2001), 120pp. [incls. Gillian Somerville-Large, Edward Power, Carmel Cummins, Brian Phelan].

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Selina Guinness, reviewing Cry for the Hot Belly, in The Irish Times (8 July 2000), quotes “Signals”: ‘Then just before Carlow,/a field got up and took to the air: white-bellied birds, their dark, splayed wings flopping up into the sky.’; remarks that Hardie ‘shares with Michael Longley an impulse to school the casual observer in “wild flowers: their legends, properties, names’ (“Things that are Lost”), but adds that her resistance to the evident desire to list phenomenon leads to a ‘greater emotional freedom’, quoting from the same poem: also, ‘Lose things, forget them., let them go. / See all things always the first time /Unnamed. In wonder.’ Quotes at greater length from “She Replies to Carmel’s Letter”: ‘So now, when you write that you labour to strip off the layers,/and there might not be, under them, anything at all,/I remember that time, and I wish you had sat there, with me,.your skin fever-hot, the lovely wet coldness of winter mud/on your red uncovered hands,/knowing it’s all in the layers,/the flesh on the bones, the pattern that the bones push upwards onto the flesh.’ Also cites “Vitality” and “Exiles”, respectively the most accomplished and most ambitious’.

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James McAuley, ‘Giving image pride of place’, review of The Silence Came Close [with Tom Mac Intyre, Paul Perry and Robert Welch], in The Irish Times (16 Dec. 2006), Weekend: ‘Kerry Hardie’s humane, generous voice is quite restrained in comparison with Tom MacIntyre’s hectic surrealism. This substantial offering has five sections: “Of Harmony”, “Of Strife and Conflict”, “Of the Middle”, “Of Love and Longing”, and “The Way Things Are”. These headings add a mildly ironic effect; a prose-poem, Burrowing Creatures, acts as preface, ending with a verse quatrain:Wait, it’s coming again[:] “Oh listen, listen - / The shining rises up with the words, / then dies down into the dark.” / Expresses reservations about prose-poems.] In prose or verse, however, her sharply observant, intimate persona engages us with direct, economical language and understated lyrical rhythms. / “Flood” is a key poem, each stanza a sharply focused scene - swans in a “sedgy” field, “And the little hills, circling./ And the sag of the sky”. Then “A slow file of cows/ threads through a gap in the thorns ... ”. Then “More swans, more water./ The coil of their necks ... ”. Thence to “the big-bellied sky, great with rain”. / This poet’s readers become fascinated companions as scenes and aperçus unfold, quietly, fatefully.’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, infra.)

Jennifer Matthews, in Poetry International (q.d.; 2011) .

‘Hardie’s poetry is brave, steadily confronting both the deaths of her loved ones and her own experiences with illness as an ME sufferer. Her collections contain gentle, but insistent, works of memento mori ... What makes her work exceptional is how skilfully she illustrates the connection between humanity and the cycles in the natural world. Poems and lives move through the unstoppable clockwork of seasons in her collections… A unique aspect of Hardie’s poetry is the hope that is present in all her collections. She guides us through tragedy, reassuring us but never romanticising the true nature of life.’

-Quoted on Bloodaxe website [distrib. for Gallery] - online; acccessed 26.02.2011.


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Hugh McFadden, ‘Immanence’, review of The Silence Came Close, in Books Ireland (March 2007), p.54: ‘[...] Her sense of immanence in nature can be detected in many of the lyrics describing landscape; she seems to be aware of the spiritual paradox of God’s presence even in apparent invisibility of the divine. She is one of the few contemporary poets in this part of the world who name-checks God. A verse [sic] from an early collection, The Sky Didn’t Fall, on the death of her father, has these lines: “Now the year / creepings towards March. / Damp days, grassing springing. / The poplars’ bare branches / are fruited with starlings and thrushes. / The world is the body of God.” It is a spiritual sensibility, although it is more orthodox than pantheistic. But her themes are not all ethereal: witness the verse “In Berne”, which is a paean to the sheer physicality of a young woman’s body, fleshy, with a head of thick hair, and “an arse that sways” [...].’ McFadden quotes at some length her own account of finding herself ‘though sickness, in a hard place’ and remarks that she had ME for five years and was barely able to spend two hours out of bed - during which time and after ‘acceptance was the only option’ while ‘exhaustion and pain are fairly constant companions.’

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Charles Bainbridge, review of Only This Room, in The Guardian (11 Dec. 2010): ‘Sparse, open, trusting to plainness, deceptively clear and direct, Hardie’s collection can conjure a scene in very few words. Take the haunting sequence “The Red Window”, which measures gradually changing skies viewed from a single room – “that morning you wake / to find the red window / is full up with weather.” The book is full of descriptions of birds and birdsong, opening with “the herring gulls on the rail” and ending with “a racket of birdsong, vibrating the air”. In between, the poetry spills over with choughs, swallows, herons, magpies and even humans transformed to birds. She’s also adept at conjuring city scenes, whether memories of Paris or darker, mysterious portraits of Clydeside (“when a ship’s pulling out / to the wailing of horns / all the tenements glide slowly seawards”), and there are vivid glimpses of the townscapes of County Kilkenny where Hardie lives. But it’s in her quiet fascination with the sky in all its everyday shape-shifting glory that the work is most at home: “Rain falls all day and it is dark for August. / The sky has wandered off to somewhere else.”’ (Available online; accessed 26.02.2011.)

See also John McAuliffe, review of Selected Poems, in The Irish Times (11 May 2011), Weekend.

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September Thoughts (After Follain)

She squats in the matted woods making water
into the moss, in the thick stillness,
stares at the silvery trail of the slug
round the tea-brown, contorted, inedible fungi—
while up in the house they sit waiting and knowing
that this time is always like this,
is always
suspended centuries-deep, and will pass, the trees
will open their hands and the shores of the lake
will clot with drowned leaves, the people will dream
and die and give birth and hoard money,
everything will go on going on, she has only
to lie on the floor reading books in the evening,
already the darkness presses the window.

—from Only This Room (2009), quoted by Brian Turner at Poetry Foundation website - online [accessed 23.07.2014].

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We Change the Map


This new map, unrolled, smoothed
seems innocent as the one we have discarded -
impersonal as the clocks in rows
pacing the upper border, showing time zones.

The colours are pale and clear, the contours
crisp, decisive, keeping order.
The new names, lettered firmly, lie quite still
within the boundaries that the wars spill over.

It is the times.

I have been always one for paths myself.
The mole’s view. Paths and small roads and the next bend.
Arched trees tunnelling to a coin of light.
No overview, no sense of what lies where.

These days I want to trace and memorize
the shape of every townland in this valley.
Name families, count trees, walls, cattle, gable ends,
smoke-soft and tender in the near blue distance.

  After Rage
  It was only
when I had carried the seedlings
out into the cold day,
when I had sat myself down
in the damp grass
and pricked out
hollyhocks, poppies, lavender, pinks -
the young plants,
the fibrous trail of their webby roots -
firming them
into their new places;
only then
did I quiet enough

for the great winds to die down
in the whitethorns of my being,
for the magpies to leave off their rattling
in the grace of the silver birch.

We carry the trust.
It was not imposed on us,
nor are we heedless.

Sometimes the stillness stands in the woods
and lies on the lake. We move like drowned beings
through clouded waters.

Sometimes we wake to spent leaves
blowing about in the yard. A door bangs.
A woman - vigorous - shakes a rug into the wind.

The red dog shudders and rises and listens.
Uncertain light shines the grasses.
Wealth sits in inner rooms, staring.

These are our days.
Walk them.
Fear nothing.

—From Selected Poems (2011); see Gallery Press, “Poem of the Month” [online; accessed 25.02.2011].

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The Bird Woman (2006), concerns Ellen, a refugee from war-torn Belfast of the Troubles who settles with her partner Liam in Kilkenny and finds herself endowed with the gift of healing, which threatens to overwhelm her. (See Books Ireland, First Flush, Sept. 2006).

The Bird Woman (2006): [...] a moving account of two marriages, a gift that feels like a curse, and the freedom that lies on the far side of family or group identity. Ellen McKinnon, red-haired, clairvoyant, fiercely independent, finds her marriage, her health, her sanity threatened when she “sees” the death of a man in a bomb attack before it has really occurred. Terrified by what’s happening to her, she leaves her home, her tribe, her husband, to live with a man she barely knows in Southern Ireland. There she strives to live a normal life in a different culture, to be accepted by her husband’s family and friends, to learn a new way of living. Though determined to suppress her “gift” at any cost, with the birth of her children the clairvoyance changes and broadens into a power to heal. Slowly the rumours spread and the sick seek her out, yet she turns them away from her door. Her husband and her closest friend demand that she question her right to suppress her remarkable powers. Reluctantly she accepts her fate, and begins her work as a healer. But the personal cost is high, and this work begins to damage her most intimate relationships. When news of the final illness of her long-estranged mother forces her return to her native city, everything falls apart for her and she finds there’s no safe ground beneath her feet.’ (Publisher’s notice, rep. in COPAC online.)

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