WILD GOOSEBERRIES OF HAILUNG
Frances Corkey Thompson originally graduated with a degree in Modern Languages from Queen’s University, Belfast. After a career teaching and lecturing in Tunisia, London and Devon, Frances gained a Poetry MA with Distinction from Exeter University, which also awarded her a Special Commendation from its School of English. Her work has appeared in many magazines, including The Rialto, The Shop, Wasafiri. and anthologies including Oxford Poets 2007 (Carcanet), many Cinnamon publications, also Irish Pages (2003) and Poetry Ireland Review 115 (2015). Her chapbook, The Long Acre, was published by Happenstance in 2008.
Frances has often been shortlisted in competitions, for example: Arvon (the final 6), The English Association (2nd place) and the Manchester Cathedral Competition 2014 (3rd place). She has been a guest reader at University Conferences in the USA, Canada, Poland and Ireland, and regularly reads at Arts Centres and Festivals.
Frances lives by the sea in Devon, and remains in close contact with her native Ireland. She speaks a few European languages and some Mandarin Chinese. She is a practising grandmother, and travels when she can.
Frances with Mr Li and her parents, Ireland, 1949
Frances Corkey Thompson
Indigo Dreams Publishing
138 x 216mm
£7.99 + P&P UK
PUB: April 2015
His bed was three chairs the time he came
to check on Tonghua’s new church. The craic was good.
Cabbage soup for breakfast with young Pastor Bi.
He’d forgotten his camera, a pity, keen for his folks
to see the light on the river, how it curved.
We brought you a Church that is yours now, in your keeping,
said the missionaries. Now their ageing children come
for something not fathomed, felt at the fingertips, seen
through a glass darkly. Memorial characters are traced
by an untutored hand.
In Pastor Qu’s high stylish house of God
I climb unfinished marble stairs to the hymn
of the carpenter hammering, hammering home
to hold and hold, and up I climb and out into bright air
in a cradle of hills.
Tonghua, Manchuria, 1939
Letters Home are more Precious than Letters From Home
or so it seems, because the letters home
are handed from parent to brothers and sisters
or shared, heads touching.
They are out in Nancy’s Kesh in a breast pocket,
carried across a field. They are read aloud
to wise noddings, their stories stored, to be told again.
A bold pen marks what his father has selected
to sound from his own pulpit.
Finally the letters home are folded again
and softly layered in a box on a shelf
to be dusted around and over,
touched by a finger...
and those arriving from home,
how quickly they are grabbed and ripped open,
how greedily devoured and re-devoured and how
lightly set aside, their job done.
He is on solid rock.
He could take on the very devil himself.
Wild Gooseberries of Hailung
Walls sagging, roof on a terrible tilt,
rubble filling the arch of the church door
where Gao K’e Li came and went, years before he was Dad.
I hold the photo up for comparison, count bricks
between the ruined windows, a crooked one still in place
above where two solemn newly-weds posed
among lily-feet grandmas and mothers and sisters
and to the right of the picture, the men, with Gao K’e Li
who had conducted the ceremony.
I’m clambering through something like brambles.
Wild yellow gooseberries are ripening,
sweet to suck.
We have found the place of the Hill of the Dead
but the dead are gone and the houses of the dead are gone
and even the grave of Deacon Wang’s mother
has been quarried away for city hardcore.
We are all descendants –
the insects that jump in this spiky grass
and Deacon Wang herself, and the grass
holding us in communion.
They are saying
Your father brought us the Good News.
He was like Saint Paul.
We had a long, hard winter
and now our harvest is rich –
and they dash looks at each other, not at me.
Is furrowed right for their brows?
I want to unlearn inscrutable.
We are sharing a Shenyang Hotpot.
Chopsticks dip and pick like cranes’ beaks,
steaming fragments are dropped into my bowl.
No room for talk in a nodding head or a munching mouth.
No protocol in warm sweet almond milk.
The collection arises out of the poet’s recent visits to Northern China (the former Manchuria), where her father had served as a missionary in the years before WW2. The long overland journey by train via Siberia, Mongolia and Beijing serves as a device linking past and present, here and there. This is the same route that carried letters between her young father and his parents back in Ireland, letters which, already published, are now a template for the journey the poetry makes, exploring relationship, memory, religion.
“Thompson has crossed continents, both physically and emotionally, in her moving exploration of her relationship with her missionary father. The poems are by no means hermetic and the tautness of her writing prevents any self-indulgence.”
Ruth O’Callaghan, poet.
“From Donegal to Manchuria, Frances Corkey Thompson's poetry explores roots, religion and language.”
Sam Smith, poet, author, editor - The Journal.
“Old long-forgotten letters became a book that stimulated BBC documentaries, and now a poetry collection. Frances Corkey Thompson has ensured that the past will not ‘fly forgotten as a dream’.”
Rev. John Dunlop CBE.
“These concise and transparent poems weave the two places, Ireland and China, into a landscape in which the child and the adult merge. The poems blow the reader’s heart like a breeze, gently and softly, so they are so close to the daily life of common people.”
崔波, Cui Bo, PhD, Zhejiang.
“Deep emotions are evoked in these reflective poems.”
Mark O’Neill, veteran journalist, SCMP, Hong Kong