Famished, 2019

Famished is a book-length poem that explores the legacy of the Irish Famine.

In this dispassionate, intelligent work, Smyth teases out the under-examined role of colonialism in causing the largest migration of the 19th century and brings to it her trademark blend of emotional density and spacious compassion.

Soft     white air        blanked moon and stars.
Sleepless in the alcove
of turf light:
we were in death poses but didn't know it.

Famished makes an important contribution to understanding a key historical event. Smyth was inspired by the maritime migrant crisis, which evokes the 'coffin ships' that carried the Irish across the Atlantic. Famished is the first long poem to examine women's role in the Famine, interweaving often brutal historical facts with imagined lyrical voices of the 1840s.

The spuds ran out.
The pig was sold.
The wheat was shipped
To feed the English.

Richly unsettling, Famished is a polyvocal work whose richness lies in the variety of forms and registers it takes up. It offers an overlap of traditional lyric, historical quotation, stark facts, autobiography, nursery rhyme and lists.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four,
five potato, six potato, seven potato, more...

By addressing the legacy of British colonialism and anti-Irish racism, Famished explores how colonial power structures continue to disseminate racism in a devastating and urgent way.

The Times, London, 22 Sept, 1846
"It is the national character, the national thoughtlessness and the national indolence... Alas, the Irish peasant had tasted of famine and found that it was good... We regard the blight as a blessing"

Famished is a powerful read. I can only imagine the extraordinary work of composition and transformation that Cherry Smyth must have gone through to turn such extensive, and what must have been pretty harrowing, research - historical and haptic - into such a finely crafted map of poems. It is a brave book. It should be handed out at tube stations. Lest we forget, not simply that it happened (and it happened like this, and it continues to happen) but also lest we forget the complicity of forgetting itself. Thank you, Cherry Smyth, for the reminder."

- Brigid McLeer, writer

So much sorrow and complexity - reading this I felt as though I was being tossed in a turbulent sea, without gravity yet leaden, held down by the legacy of history - struggling for breath. The stuff of revolutions!"

- Anne Tallentire

Famished arrived today and I finished it at a sitting. Dry-eyed while reading, weeping in finishing. It hurts. It demands to be repeated, as hurts do. I can acknowledge it no more than to echo Cherry's own words.
'How to make the many,
Our one...
I am getting my head around it. Around figures
And figures of speech. Whose speech figures.
Understanding is lighter than ignorance.'

More moved than I have been by anything for a long long time.."

- Dr Andrew King, FRSA, Professor of English Literature, University of Greenwich
Price: £11.49 incl P&P


Hold Still, 2013

Hold Still is set in 1860s London and Paris, and is a fictional account of a short period in the life of Joanna Hiffernan, the muse and model of both James Whistler and Gustave Courbet.

Cherry Smyth has created an enthralling picture of what must have been a remarkable woman. How did a young girl, just seventeen when she met Jim Whistler, admittedly with beautiful red hair, and a vivid personality, inspire talented painters to create wonderful paintings such as: Whistler’s Symphony in White, No.1: The White Girl and Courbet’s La Belle Irlandaise?

Hold Still tells the story from Jo’s point of view. Her father instils in her a sense of self and Jo grows up to be a free spirit, a suffragette avant la lettre. Jo draws you in on her journey and her growing sense of her own artistic identity.

Read Hold Still for an interpretation of Courbet’s notorious The Origin of the World’s genesis,
with a highly plausible explanation of the absent head and face of the model.

A jewel of a book, rich and sensual, vivid with the colours of paint and flesh, scents of skin and sea, the taste of a lover. We are lured deep into the real world of the model whose face and body we already know intimately. Now we know her heart, as her extraordinary life and conflicted passions are brilliantly recreated."

- Marcelle Bernstein, writer

In bringing to life real people from the past, Hold Still is in the tradition of Paula McLean’s The Paris Wife and Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, and is as compelling and fascinating as these popular novels."

- Ruth Latta in The Compulsive Reader
ISBN: 978-1-907320-36-1
Number of pages: 253
Price: £12.99


Test, Orange, 2012

test,orangeCherry Smyth's third collection of poetry confirms her as one of Ireland's new generation of poets. The poems in Test, Orange are intelligent, passionate and lyrical. They move with ease from the tarantella dance of southern Italy to the bombing of Gaza in 2008 to an exploration of the mother/daughter bond in the prize-winning sequence 'Wishbone'. The poet's relationship with the female body – how it desires, how it changes – is also examined in the exceptional sequences 'Six Given Fields' and 'Now You're a Woman'. This exhilarating collection is a tour de force.

"Cherry Smyth's poems are precise, tough and full of passion. Whether writing about visual art, war, desire or aging, Smyth doesn't shy from the world, but embraces it in all its brokenness, confused beauty and pain. Test, Orange continues the poet's dream to convey the truth at all costs, to take risks, break rules, run red lights.. Smyth's work fulfills her own credo: to have the strength to do the heart justice."

— Ellen Hinsey


One Wanted Thing, 2006

Cherry Smyth's outstanding second collection, One Wanted Thing, shows a poet coming into a true voice. Her poems give imaginative room for an intriguing array of delicately shifting sensibilities.

Whether writing of love, friendship, the conflict between the ideal and reality or the search for physical, moral and emotional beauty, Smyth comes to the task armed with a formidable poetic arsenal: anger, a wry humour, a self-reflective sense of doubt, an insight into the psyche of others, a belief in the power of the word.

Here is clarity and realism, couched in language that is accessible and inventive. The title poem of this collection was nominated for the Forward Best Poem of the Year 2004, and carries all Smyth's hallmarks: precision, linguistic inventiveness and joy:

There are moving poems, not the least being those in which the poet describes the aftermath of a car crash in which her parents were injured. The sudden and shocking role reversal in which the child finds herself looking after her parents is well captured in poems such as Chore: "I wondered if he'd seen the blood I swabbed/ from his ears, his bashed scarlet sockets".

Equally compelling and unsentimental is the portrait of the poet, Adrian Fox, felled by a stroke in 2005: "All I could think of for days/ was the fat slug of toothpaste/ the nurse fretted round your teeth". Smyth received much critical acclaim for her debut collection, When the Lights Go Up. On the evidence of One Wanted Thing, she has managed the challenge of the difficult second collection very well indeed."

— Nessa O'Mahony, The Irish Times


The Future of Something Delicate, 2005

These poems achieve a sense of reconciliation, matched by the growing, if unsteady, peace in Northern Ireland, and a mood of acceptance and buoyancy. Cherry Smyth’s interest in Buddhist texts, and poets like Li Po and Basho, has generated a delicacy and spiritual cohesion.

Cherry Smyth’s ‘The Future of Something Delicate’ is grounded in an uncomfortably sensual apprehension of things… Her poems at their best seem to drift, like mist, before suddenly clearing to reveal something entirely, but usually subtly, unexpected….

Psychoanalysis underlies much of Smyth’s approach, coming to the fore in the inwardly focused fairy-tale imagery of ‘Object Relations’, the small explosion of trees, sky and birds in the two stanzas of ‘Lacan’s Idea of Love’ and the vividly patterned Indian imagery of ‘The Trance of Small Gold Flies’, in which a speaker appears to dissolve into the scents and colours of a garden This pamphlet suggests an accomplished body of work in the making."

— Wayne Burrows, Poetry London, Autumn, 2006

'Our task as poets is not to allow untruth by slackness. Cut to where you can't put it down - begin there.... Start in the poem. A poem is not about something, a poem is something. What matters about a poem is its indispensability.'

Muriel Rukeyser, from By Herself