Frosted Fire First Pamphlet Award winner
Maeve‘s first collection, Why We Left, was published as a pamphlet by Frosted Fire in October 2021. Copies of the book are available by mail order.
Maeve read from her book on 20 November in an online book launch presented by Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Reading with her was our other 2021 Award winner, Ben Verinder.
As a winner of the Frosted Fire Firsts Award, Maeve was a triage judge for the 2022 competition, reading entries and considering them for a longlist of potential winners.
Maeve Henry lives in Oxford with her husband and occasionally her grown up children. Her poetry has been published in various places; she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2020 and the Brotherton Prize in 2019.
Since publication of Why We Left, Maeve has poems published in Presence and The Crank. Her poem “Elegy for a Saola”, which won second prize in the Ware Poetry competition in 2021, has been submitted for the Forward Prize. She was joint runner up in the Brian Dempsey Memorial Pamphlet competition, and won second prize in the individual poem section with “When We Move to Arthur Street”.
Her YA novels from decades ago are still available on Amazon.
Reviews of Why We Left
The people in Maeve Henry’s poems inhabit an oppressive world of roadblocks, barbed wire, and desert graves. They are bruised, often desperate but determined to find a life and, in all the bleakness, there is a sense of how humanity can triumph against the odds. She is adept at showing how violence subverts normal human activity. Bird Watching involves ‘stringing up’ a rare ibis, courtship involves ‘bellowing like a bull’ and no-one asks the butcher what he is skinning. Her use of traditional forms such as pantoums, sonnets, and a ghazal produces a powerful tension between content and form which underlines the horrors and the resilience of her subjects.
It is clear that these are poems aimed at the ‘comfortable’ western reader and while one can wonder how the poet gained such a nuanced understanding of the refugee’s plight, she has succeeded brilliantly in depicting its cost both to victim and the rest of us who allow it to continue.
The poems in Maeve Henry’s Why We Left are unflinching and beautifully made. Skilful use of form and precise, fresh, language led to poems staying with me, unfolding as I thought about them. It is a risky strategy to speak in the voices of the marginalised, the dispossessed, but it was a risk worth taking for Maeve Henry in this powerful pamphlet. She achieves the feeling of authenticity through empathy, experience, and craft. She creates a context, so often missing when talking of migration, through hinting at the imperialist roots of such migrations by including the voice of Gertrude Bell, and showing the role of refugees in our communities, present and future. Angela France
Why we Left begins with a departure – and with ‘the grandfather who/sits upright in the middle of the back seat/packed round with children, keeping his hand/clamped over the mouth of the littlest one’. The power and pathos of this first poem is sustained throughout a breath-taking and moving pamphlet which addresses a timely and urgent theme – the plight of refuges in an unsettled world.
Maeve Henry takes a challenging and emotional theme and addresses it with great finesse and nuance whilst refusing to turn her eye from ‘children clinging to tent flaps’, the bombing that ‘sets a village alight’, the dehumanisation of immigration centres, churches blown up, ‘the gate of god destroyed’, or even the poignancy of blue tack left on a wall where posters have been removed. Despite this pamphlet’s clearsighted depiction of the atrocities of war, the horror of exile and the loss of home, this is a life-affirming and beautiful book, full of hope and faith in humanity. In the final poem, its protagonist writes ‘for the It was the strangers who carried quiet inside them that saved us’.
A fine and masterful pamphlet that should be read by poetry lovers and politicians alike. Anna Saunders
Poems from Why We Left
You can see a red line where our country ends.
On one side, pumpkins and graves. On the other,
the future. The guards are checking cars for smuggled
goods. We have hidden our memories in Granddad,
who looks so innocent, so confused –
a single rough word startles him into tears.
He sits upright in the middle of the back seat
packed round with children, keeping his hand
clamped over the mouth of the littlest one,
who knows all the songs.
It was the quiet that saved us. The
whisper of grasses, self-seeded,
defying the curfew. Sea-grasses
greening the shallow coastal waters,
meadow grasses spilling out of the
park into the pavements. Some days
the hum of bees seemed to drown
the flower drenched verges. At night
the silence was pierced by owls and
foxes. Hedgehogs mated in the roads
where cars were rusting. The only
visitors to the broken high street
were fallow deer, tripping quietly.
We hid indoors as instructed,
waiting for nature to reset, waiting
for the anger against us to subside.
We listened to the blame on the
internet and said our prayers.
We only came out when some of us
were dead and all of us were famishing.
We only came out after the night
when there was no news, just a repeat
of yesterday’s. We knew then they had
gone, our leaders. We did not care where;
they had been no good for us. We came out
and stood in groups, pale in the sunshine.
There was no one to tell us what to do.
It was the strangers who carried quiet inside
them that saved us. The ones we had always
resented, who had lost their own cities already.
The man who hauled his sewing machine
across Europe, swimming rivers and ducking
under barbed wire. The girl whose mother
taught her how to bottle pears in a ruined cellar.
The boy who crossed the desert, who could
fix any machine you gave him. They showed
us what to do as the quiet days turned into
seasons, into life times, and London broke into
a hundred villages, the length of a day’s walk.
A Year In
We do not ask the butcher what he’s skinning
in the shop rubble, a year into the siege.
The bread ration is just a hundred grams –
my mother has to mix her flour with brick dust.
In the shop rubble, a year into the siege
my brother drops down dead without a word.
My mother has to mix her flour with brick dust,
cook flatbreads on the ashes of our house.
My brother drops down dead. Without a word
my mother buries him, she gets our rations,
cooks flatbreads on the ashes of our house,
sends me to the broken pipe for water.
My mother buries him. She gets our rations,
carrying my sister safe under her coat,
sends me to the broken pipe for water.
The rockets start up again at nightfall.
Carrying my sister safe under her coat,
light as bird bone, she has no lullabies.
The rockets start up again at nightfall.
My sister cries in the darkness of the cellar
Light as bird bone – she has no lullabies –
I carry my mother to the new dug pit.
My sister cries in the darkness of the cellar.
We do not ask the butcher what he’s skinning.
Babes in the Wood
They have almost forgotten their own names,
brother clutching sister’s hand. Birds devoured
their trail of crumbs. There’s no way back
through open borders, barbed wire, muddy
fields, roads, sand, the sea. They wake to rain
dripping off the trees, exchange night’s gifts:
she slept in Rima’s flat in Mosul, he tasted kebabs
in Konak Square, when they sold cigarettes
and ran if the police came. Things lost on the journey:
passports, her shoes, the grown-ups. When the wood
stops they will be at Calais. It’s a dream their mother
had. England. It tingles on the tongue like gingerbread.
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