New Island Books presents the launch of Tongues by Peggy O’Brien. With guest speaker Anthony Glavin and special readings from the book by Maureen Boyle, Jane Clarke and Katie Donovan.
Who did it? Who will finally go to Hell? The scoundrel / with his head in his hands or she with the icy smile?
– Heloise, in ‘Wimbledon’
Tongues is a radical retelling of the twelfth-century legend of Heloise and Abelard, she the rapt acolyte, he the brilliant logician. At the request of Heloise’s uncle, Abelard agrees to tutor the precocious young woman, but soon she is with child. She passes her confinement with Abelard’s family in Brittany, while subsequently in Paris her uncle’s henchmen castrate the fornicator. After the birth of the couple’s child and a secret marriage, they both take monastic vows and live the rest of their lives cloistered from each other and the world.
The first half of Tongues is entirely in the voice of Abelard, who relates at length the further suffering he endured as a monk. The second half shifts abruptly to the present day and at long last to the voice of Heloise. Suddenly we are in Dublin, not Paris, the west of Ireland, Kerry and Clare, not Brittany. A tongue of fire blazes, revealing Heloise’s hard-won autonomy. And the truths she utters expose Abelard’s absolutism as a desperate attempt to avoid our more nuanced world.
Tongues is Peggy O’Brien’s fourth book of poetry. Her previous three are: Sudden Thaw, Frog Spotting and Trusting Ice. She spent the first half of her teaching career at Trinity College, Dublin, and the remainder at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, from which she recently retired.