Preview: Emma McKervey – The Rag Tree Speaks

Emma McKervey’s debut poetry collection from Doire Press, The Rag Tree Speaks, is released later this month. Below, we preview two poems from the collection.

Emma McKervey was the winner of the 2015 Poetry NI / Translink Poetry Competition. In 2016 she was shortlisted for both the FSNI National Poetry Competition and the Bord Gáis Irish Book Awards’ Poem of the Year Award. She has been published in many literary journals, including The Honest Ulsterman, Abridged and Skylight 47, as well as having poems forthcoming with anthologies by Seren and the Emma Press.

Emma is also is a professionally-trained musician, having played cello in orchestras, saxophone in various jazz ensembles and developed sonic art performance pieces with a range of composers, collaborating with dancers and theatre practitioners on both islands. A member of Women Aloud, Emma is from Holywood, County Down.

Doire Press describes the collection as being concerned “with a sense of place, particularly questioning Irishness and the myriad voices within that familiar trope, trying to cut through easy clichés to explore what lies beneath. Informed by history and mythology, a sense of magic is brought to the close observations of the immediate natural world — a theme which is apparent in the development of her work.”

The Rag Tree Speaks launches 25th September, 6.30pm, at Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast.

An Sciathán

It can be considered odd that the Irish language
has no word for hand or foot; these appendages,
as we see them, are of the linguistic flow of arm and leg
and the words themselves seem supple and warm,
suggestive of the dexterity of the limbs as a whole;
undisjointed, unsegmented and all to a singular purpose.
In Ulster Irish there is a different word for arm (and hand)
which translates most easily as ‘wing’.
This may explain the hunch in my shoulders in the North,
the roil of blade and faint domino click of vertebrae
when trying to rotate the ball in its socket.
The feathers grow inwards, abstruse quills prickle
beneath the skin so when we talk and my arms wave
to ballast my point I cannot suddenly rise up —
fly away.


I never actually thought I was knocking
the devil off my shoulder
with a pinch of spilled salt,
but the motion
made me feel I belonged somehow,
my small gesture tying me to
the small gestures of many years
my grandmothers may have made.
Maybe all that salt we’ve tossed
has been stacking up,
rebuilding a scattered saline pillar
and some day if my daughter dares look +++behind
she will see it once again transformed
into a complete woman.