UNTAINTED LOVE – the poetry of Mary Dorcey

by Maria Micaela Coppola 

The whiteness

of snow

on a branch of pine

is the whiteness

of her skin

from shoulder

to thigh.

And the sway of the branch

under its

flesh of snow,

is the song of her hips

in the weight of my hands.

(Mary Dorcey, “The whiteness of snow”, The River That Carries Me, 1995)

Flowing along these verses by Mary Dorcey (Dublin, 1950 – ), our gaze moves with the poet’s as her hand slides on the skin of the one she loves, making her quiver with pleasure. We become participants in a simple, ordinary gesture – as simple and ordinary as the way in which the poet reveals that the one she loves is a woman. The poet’s language, her gesture, her gaze over another woman’s body are as immaculate, clear and taintless as the image of the “whiteness of snow” around which these verses revolve. Merely by singing about “her skin”, Dorcey does not leave room for ambiguity. With just one, common word she triggers the complexity of lesbian love and makes it explode, especially in the eyes of those who would like to see it tainted and doomed to silence or marginality. It is not surprising, then, to find that, after the publication of her first collection of poems (Kindling, 1982), Mary Dorcey’s verses upset the mainstream readership for their direct and shameless representation of lesbian desire. In her poetry, the beauty of the song of a woman’s hips at the poet’s touch is always celebrated without guilt.

In the six collections published so far, Dorcey has shattered the moral bubble of the heteronormative gaze in different ways: by creating a language of lesbian desire; by listening to women’s stories, far too long ignored; and by giving voice to the stories of violence against women and to the claims of the feminist and lesbian movements (she was the first Irish woman to publicly advocate for LGBT+ rights). In her verses, the rediscovery of women’s individual and collective legacy is a key step to claim one’s voice and poetry. Our foremothers are flagships, that is, at once trailblazers and sources of pride, and we daughters travel in their wake (“Uncharted Passage”, in Like Joy in Season, Like Sorrow, 2001). The physical and symbolic space passed on by foremothers is a liberated passage, so that the women who follow can move without restraints and speak out fearlessly:

But you must take every step first

along this passage

we daughters must follow after

each one of us

moving into the space

cleared by our mothers.

(“Trying on for Size”, in Moving into the Space Cleared by Our Mothers, 1991)

In her poems of protest, Dorcey once again smashes the bubble of dominant hypocrisy and shows us glimpses of the daily lives of women for whom the house, the street, the square, or the homeland are not only places of love, freedom, or political participation, but also of violence, threats, war. The woman who walks with her arm around the waist of her beloved without feeling in danger (“Summer”, in Perhaps the Heart Is Constant After All, 2012); the woman who has a job, food, and a home; the woman who reads the stories of everyday violence against other women, victims of distant wars (“A Woman in Another War”, 1995): these are not ordinary women. Mary Dorcey prevents these women, and all of us, from looking naively at the world we live in, and pays homage to all the ‘other’ women who are fighting other wars. Dorcey’s poetry stems from this sharp, clear, taintless gaze:

As if to say here it is –

this is the blood,

the beating pulse, the joy,

the wonder, the grief,

this is what it cost.

this is what I made of it

(“Patchwork”, in To the Air the Soul, Throw All the Windows Wide, 2016)

Articolo tradotto e pubblicato sul numero 52 de La Falla, febbraio 2020

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