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The Fifty Minute Mermaid Paperback – 1 Oct 2007

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Poems written in Irish and translated into English by Paul Muldoon, The Fifty Minute Mermaid is published as a parallel text.


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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magical collection 26 April 2010
By Cary A. Shay - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Review of THE FIFTY MINUTE MERMAID (Gallery 2007, 163pp.)[...]
The prediction that further collaboration between Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Paul Muldoon after The Astrakhan Cloak would produce dazzling results has been fulfilled with the recent release of The Fifty Minute Mermaid. As with Pharaoh's Daughter, the volume is clearly a pinnacle moment in Irish literature; both in terms of a kind of fruition in this formidable, trans-Atlantic partnership between Ireland's leading Irish language poet and her most well-known (also Irish but living in America) translator, and in terms of continuing to open the poet's authoritative, socially conscious imagination to a wider audience.
The quality of Ní Dhomhnaill's verse in Irish is not something the average reader will be able to ascertain. The originals remain relatively hidden to most, except, perhaps, for the few clues and nuances that emerge from comparing translations. This is still possible however, for, as it should be remembered, the group of poems that comprise The Fifty Minute Mermaid are all taken from Ní Dhomhnaill's prior Irish language volume Cead Aighnis (Permission to Speak) (An Sagart, 1998). The original Irish poems also appear in FMM on the left with facing page translations. Various translations of several of these poems have appeared prior to their publication in FMM, and the surrounding commentary has made it evident that translation from Irish is still a contentious issue.
However, the sheer daring, vivacity and lustre of these poems as they have taken shape in Muldoon's sensitive and careful renderings make it clear that, whatever the naysayers aver about translation, The Fifty Minute Mermaid is worth its weight in gold. Not only does this volume directly address the pain of the fracture that is characteristic of Ireland's linguistic environment where English is privileged and Irish virtually disowned (Although this state of affairs is beginning to show some signs of shifting, a fact due, in part, to Ní Dhomhnaill and others like her). It also directly addresses the painful problems surrounding the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, and the complacency, even the conspiratorial aid that allowed such abuse to continue unchallenged up until recent times. A further important theme is the pain a child suffers at the hands of abusive or mentally unstable parents. All of this is done in a series of poems whose imaginative sheen and metaphorical nuances produce both a hypnotic effect and an enduring impression of wonder for the reader.
Using the technique of the invented character, something Ní Dhomhnaill says she learned from John Berryman's Dream Songs, she allows the mermaid to suffer through potent, aesthetically charged poetic manoeuvres in an effort to describe the mermaid's fragmentation, repression and even psychosis. What is so striking in Ní Dhomhnaill's oeuvre, and especially in her work with "an mhurúch" (the mermaid), is that with this technique she holds so many threads in tension while weaving in multiple and engaging dimensions to them. Ní Dhomhnaill's own personal experiences, the ancient folkloric theme of the sea people, the problem of language loss and deracination, the psychic disturbances caused by (often necessary) repression and denial of trauma and, finally, the more global implication of the volume as a whole: that, as Ní Dhomhnaill has stated, there is no Ithaca to return to, no Eden to re-enter, are all explored. Ní Dhomhnaill's volume confronts us with the stark reality that we are out of balance living in a society that is not meeting our needs and the only re-entry we experience is into our own subconscious material--itself a delicate operation that has been done in the past century with the help of the psychoanalyst during the precious few fifty minutes of the therapy session.
Na Murúcha a Thriomaigh or "The Mermaids High and Dry", which is the final section of Cead Aighnis from which the majority of the poems for FMM are taken, then, can be seen as another metaphor for the fall. Eden is gone, and we must somehow thread our way through the labyrinthine consequences. The mermaid finds herself thrown up by the subconscious womb of the sea onto the land where her gills and her own "pelagic" language are now useless and her relationship to her new surroundings is tenuous and fraught with difficulties. The tension between the two worlds is played out in poem after poem and the alienation that the mermaid feels is explored to its uttermost depths.
During the launch of the volume in Dublin, Ní Dhomhnaill cited Oliver Sacks' novel The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat as an inspiration for the poem "An Mhurúch san Ospidéal" / "The Mermaid in the Hospital", where the mermaid throws out the two legs that she finds in the bed with her, and can't understand why she goes `tumbling after'. In "An Muruch Agus Focail Áirithe" / "The Mermaid and Certain Words" the narrator cautions the reader that certain words that are reminiscent of water must not be used in the presence of the mermaid. It is only with the help of a qualified therapist that the repressed memory of this former life can be coaxed back to her consciousness.
The volume is peppered with biblical myth, multiple languages, a wealth of erudite references and folkloric themes which all combine to make for a cracking read. One run through will scarcely be enough for, such is the nature of Ní Dhomhnaill's intellect and imagination that readers will always be tempted to return again and again. One of Ireland's most highly respected and recognised authors, Ní Dhomhnaill is also an excellent speaker and reader, and she is also well known for her prose essays in English. This volume is really a wonderful piece of work, I highly recommend it.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Her Best 3 Aug. 2015
By Christin M. Mulligan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I am still feeling my way through this collection. Muldoon's translations are very much about him, and for what they gain in luster, panache, and verve, they sometimes lose in fidelity to the original Irish. The idea of the Irish people as mermaids who have moved onto dry land and experienced the foundational trauma of losing water, losing their roots and connection to the past (whether that means the Irish language, the Great Hunger, the horror of colonial occupation and oppression, or all of the above) is an interesting one, but the Ni Dhomhnaill's poems are murky and nebulous and too many of them deal with this trauma by projecting (in the Freudian sense)/implying a clouded, cathected national psyche that needs to be explored further and mapped more directly.
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