In the Old Country of My Heart
In the Old Country of My Heart by Agnes Walsh was originally published in book form by Killick Press, an imprint of Creative Publishers, in 1996. Since then Agnes Walsh and her poems have developed a keen following. In this recording poems are interspersed with two unaccompanied ballads sung by Simone Savard-Walsh and the pump organ music of George Morgan. Walsh is an example of that rare thing, a poet who not only writes well but also reads their work beautifully. She works from St. John\'s and Patricks Cove in Newfoundland. In addition to writing poetry Walsh writes plays. She founded the Tramore Theatre Troupe of Cuslett on the Cape Shore of Newfoundland\'s Avalon Peninsula. Her most recent book is Going Around with Bachelors (Brick Books, 2007). Book Reviews: Agnes Walsh's heart belongs to the Placentia Bay area of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula, but this passion for home ground is only part of what commends her work to the attention of readers everywhere. She writes under the skin; even her smallest poems glow with the mysterious otherness at the core of life. Stan Dragland Audio Book Reviews: From AudioFile Magazine: The tones and timbre of Agnes Walsh\'s voice seem to emanate from the heart of North America--from the most ancient parts of the continent. She reads her poetry with maturity, wisdom, and assurance. Like so many good poets, Walsh draws from her native soil, in this case the Placentia Bay area of Newfoundland\'s Avalon Peninsula, to discover universal and personal truths. In her final selection, \'Oderin,\' Walsh laments, \'There is not enough time to understand all I need to know.\' Isn\'t that always the way it is? A number of musical selections for voice and pump organ round out this haunting volume of contemporary poetry. From Mark Callanan, The Independent: Walsh, with her rich reading voice and a tongue that tenderly embraces each word in speaking it, makes this collection especially pleasant to listen to. Each poem is delivered with the weight of one who is not merely reading, but rather casting incantations, weaving magic. The result is an entrancing combination of music and spoken word. From Phil Thompson, League of Canadian Poets: For nearly an hour (58:04) this CD remains a gentle splendid earful. Walsh\'s voice is subtle, sweet and sincere. She waltzes with words like sea mist dancing on the cliffs of Newfoundland, some lines bring a shawl to the shoulders, others a shaft of light. Recorded in the Roman Catholic Church in Patrick\'s Cove on the shores of Placentia Bay, the acoustics remind listeners of Judy Collins singing Amazing Grace in another church more distant in time and space. The 45 tracks are mostly short, crystal clear poems first published as a book by Killick Press in 1996. Copies of the second edition are available from the author at 4 Pilot\'s Hill, St. John\'s NFLD A1C 3L9. Along with the alluring purity of Walsh\'s ever-so-slightly accented voice, there are several unaccompanied ballads by Simone Savard-Walsh, uplifting and poignant, and delicious pump organ playing by George Morgan...who also excels at playing the \'Fisher-Price Roly Poly Chime Bell\'. Average length of the poems is just over a minute, and the ballads are twice as long, yet the blend of these two fine arts makes for spectacular entertainment. My favorites are Breathing Through Walls and At Night the Birds, but there are many others of equal interest and power, all well written and masterfully read. This is one of the best Poetry CDs I have reviewed so far. Any writer would be proud to have such high quality of production and design. From Maria Scala, PoetryReviews. Ca: Agnes Walsh, recently named by the City of St. John's as their first Poet Laureate, is no stranger to the charms of oral history, since she also works as an actor and playwright, and founded the Tramore Theatre Troupe on the Cape Shore of Placentia Bay. The poems from the CD In the Old Country of My Heart (originally published as a book in 1996 by Killick Press) are thus well-suited to the audio form, as Walsh performs them with the same conviction and precision with which she penned them more than a decade ago. Like one of the more memorable lines of the Celtic ballad about a herdsman's daughter "Ailili? Na Gamhna" (offered in a sweet rendition by Walsh's daughter Simone Savard-Walsh) "The magic music of the world / Always around me," Agnes Walsh imbues the everyday with drama and depth, in poems such as "You Drive the Truck," "Our Boarder Alfred," "Tea Ceremony," "Fiddlehead," and "Percy Janes Boarding the Bus." In the last poem Walsh recalls waiting for the number 5, on her way to the mall for a kettle, and spotting the famous writer trying to catch another bus: I jumped to life, beat on the bus door, said to the driver: "Mr. Janes. Mr. Percy Janes wants to get on." He raised a "So what?" eyebrow. Mr. Janes straightened his astrakhan hat, mumbled thank you and stepped up. As the bus rumbled on I continued under my breath: "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Percy Janes, Newfoundland writer, poet, just boarded the number something-or-other." If this was Portugal, a plaque would be placed over the seat where he sat. As it is, you have me mumbling in the street like a tourist in my own country. The way Walsh delivers that last line-"tourist" sounds like "taurist"-reminds me of an earlier track on the CD, "The Time that Passes." Here, the poet bemoans the growing homogeneity of the spoken word, but her mother reminds her that even she can't escape correct speech: But you watch it, my mother said, it's your tongue too that was dipped in the blue ink, and do go leaking iambics all the day long. This is a trademark of Walsh's writing, this mingling of the lyrical with the conversational, and she does it again in "Storm," a poem recounting the death and life of her father. In hospital, as Walsh's father is coming out of the anaesthetic, she finds him making curious movements, his arms stretched overhead. Someone behind her says, "Don't worry, love. / He's mending sails and then he's tacking home" (Track 42; Page 60). As Walsh reaches the sombre conclusion to the poem, the words themselves seem to get caught in her throat, rendering "Storm" that much more affecting: My father so tiny in the bed. Time stealing him from me. I sat and listened to him and the captain talk of weather, fish, and old schooners- what he had talked of all his life. He'd call tonight a bad one. Hurricane Louis would drive him from his bed send him down the hall in his stocking vamps checking the stove, the doors and windows making us warm and watertight. And tonight I feel like howling into the fury to bring him back safe to me. Similarly, three poems in this collection stood out-the emotionally charged "In The Old Country of My Heart," "Weather Moving," and "Oderin." In these three, Walsh digs deep into her past, exploring her identity as both a writer, and as a Newfoundlander. "Oderin," the final poem on the CD, is a hauntingly picturesque remembrance from Walsh's childhood, in which she was "Shipped out to old people who were childish / they didn't know a five cents from a ten" (Track 44; Page 63). You have to hear Walsh read these sorrowful lines, in that voice that moves seamlessly from dead-pan to tender to ironic, to feel the full impact: Can I walk anywhere without voices? Although it is the voices I came here for. Now they cut too near the bone, too much inside the soundbone thump thumping into the blood. And that other balance upset by coming here kicking at sleeping dogs, turning over tired bones. These goddamn ghosts rattling under broad daylight. Knowing summer is short they shake their fists both day and night. The hot potato tossed from one generation to the next, burned holes in my palms, left smoulders aching. I watched tranced by the cult of blood. I ask strangers: Was she cruel? They turn away. Stare across the meadow. Fidget with pipes and bandannas. Then, finally: Well, girl, she had a hard life. So, she was cruel. There's another striking voice on this CD-that of Simone Savard-Walsh. She sings a cappella on two tracks, the aforementioned Celtic ballad "Ailili? Na Gamhna," and the tragic folk song "Fair Fannie Moore." I would have enjoyed hearing more from Savard-Walsh, in exchange for a little less pump organ and chime bell from George Morgan. While tracks such as "Don't Know What This Is" and "Melancholic" complemented the mood created by Walsh's poetry, others like "3 Blind Mice" and "Rodent Anthem" were a bit jarring. Taken as a whole, however, the music and ballads do provide 'listening room' between readings, for this is a weighty and dramatic body of work from a poet, who, in my opinion, deserves her own plaque on the bus.