Questions of inheritance permeate Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s scintillating new collection, The Girl who Married the Reindeer. ‘The blood that was sown here flowered,’ she writes, ‘the past keeps warm,’ and though ‘the story has moved away,’ she stores and treasures the shards of it.
Never has her genius for penetrating detail been more apparent – from ‘the rain darning into the grass’ (‘Bessboro’) to ‘the cello changing gear at the foot of the long hill’ (‘Crossing the Loire’). She is a poet of perfect pitch. The work in The Girl Who Married the Reindeer is among the finest being written in Ireland, or anywhere else.
‘There is something second sighted, as it were, about Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s work, by which I don’t mean that she has any prophetic afflatus, more that her poems see things anew, in a rinsed and dreamstruck light. They are at once as plain as an anecdote told on the doorstep and as haunting as a soothsayer’s greetings.’
— Seamus Heaney
‘Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s best work (of which this collection is unquestionably part) spins . . . elements in a liminal landscape between this world and another, far more marvelous one . . . Ní Chuilleanáin uses language to create a space that “leap[s] over lines,” that delineates only to break its own limits, characterized by references to myth, fairy tales, songs, popular traditions, and linguistic history. The romance-type narratives circle around a point that cannot be pinpointed, pushing back against the teleological and nationalistic. Ní Chuilleanáin’s questions at first sound rhetorical—“When is the wave’s return?”—but have in fact no conceivable response. The sense of loss in the wave’s absorption into the greater sea, “drawn by the future tense,” is only the starting point, and the desire to place a moment of specific return is devalued in the face of the ability to suspend disbelief for a moment. In the end, “the voice of the wave will be all / We will be expected to understand.’
— Jenny Ludwig, Boston Review