I just finished reading, A Ghost In the Throat, by the Irish poet and author Doireann Ni Ghriofa, and I wish that I hadn’t (finished it, that is). I am entranced with her voice. I’m in love with her love and obsession. She and I have gone through a similar birthing experience, although our outcomes are different. It’s rare to read such an honest delivery and birth story—as in the birth of Doireann’s daughter as well as the birth of her own self side-by-side with the Irish noblewoman Eiblin Dubh, author of the famous poem of Ireland of the eighteenth century. In truth, the entire book is a birthing story written so intensely with all the power that Ni Ghriofa has at her hand, mind and her heart. I feel like I’ve traveled high and far in the reading of it.
The absence of women’s voices, even the writing out and erasing of women’s voices, spurs Doireann Ni Ghriofa’s search for more clues about Eiblin Dubh’s life. Doireann Ni Ghriofa is first introduced to the noblewoman of long ago when her elementary school teacher reads the poem, lament, a keen, what the teacher calls a caoineadh written by Eiblin Dubh over the violent murder of her husband. Doireann Ni Ghriofa’s eleven-year-old self hears Eiblin Dubh’s caoineadh as a call to find out more about the poet’s life. When Ni Ghriofa is nursing her young sons late at night, when she is pumping breast milk for a milk bank to supply NICU babies in distress, waiting to pick up her son from school, and later while she is desperately trying to keep her new baby daughter alive after a traumatic birth, Ni Ghriofa is obsessively imagining Eiblin Dubh’s life and translating her caoineadh. Painstakingly searching through old documents and traveling to the physical sites of Eiblin Dubh’s life, Doireann Ni Ghriofa carefully nurtures her own self, her children’s, and the ghost of Eiblin Dubh to full life.
There are two other authors who come to my mind when reading A Ghost In the Throat—Kenzaburo Oe and Helen Macdonald. Through reading the mystical poetry of William Blake, Kenzaburo Oe brings to life his own writing about voice, the voice of his home country Japan, and the mystery of his son with severe disabilities. Helen Macdonald weaves the story of the troubled 20th-century British author T.H. White with the story of her intense grief over her father’s death and carefully training her goshawk named Mabel.
These authors are haunted by someone else’s discovered voice out of the past to transform their own. I now have a new live ghost in Ireland to inform the search for my own and my daughter Temma’s voices. Thank you, Doireann Ni Ghriofa for baring your soul with such grace and power.