A ghost in the throat (Sexto Piso, 2022), the award-winning debut in the narrative of the essayist and poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Galway, Ireland, 42 years old), could be defined in a very reductionist way as the story of an obsession: that of Ní Ghríofa with a writer from the 18th century, Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, author of what is considered the most important British poem of her time, the Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire (Lament for the death of Art, for its translation into Spanish).

“I could dedicate my days to discovering theirs/, I tell myself / I could and I will,” writes Ní Ghríofa. The Irish essayist explains to EL PAÍS that Eibhlín Dubh’s poem became a comfort to her at a time in her life when she was immersed in the tasks of caring for her children: “She had given birth to four children in six years old, and although I was rarely alone, I often felt isolated. He Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire she conveyed the voice of Eibhlín Dubh to me so vividly that I felt almost as if she were keeping me company in the monotony of housework.” She also explains that Eibhlín Dubh was pregnant, like her, when she first uttered this chant: “The more time I spent with her voice, the more curious I became about her life.”

In addition to the aforementioned story of an obsession —almost a possession— that runs through the more than 200 pages of his book, A ghost in the throat it is many other things. On the one hand, a claim by women who, like Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, have been erased from a history written by men. “Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire it has been acclaimed in Ireland for generations and as such is widely studied and a frequent subject of translation, adaptation and academic study. However, surprisingly little is known about the poet herself”, argues the author. “We don’t even know when she died or where she is buried. So, despite her deserved recognition of her poetic legacy, the woman behind the poem was neglected, even within her family archive, ”she denounces.

On the other hand, her book praises housework and the always undervalued care work, among them, of course, the exercise of motherhood. “I composed this book as a song in praise of the myriad of invisible tasks involved in caring for others. The book was written within that world of care and, instead of ignoring these moments, it includes them”, says Ní Ghríofa. Her unclassifiable work, in fact, starts with an endless list of domestic and care tasks, typical of any mother with young children in charge. “(…) I feel enormous satisfaction every time I get a task out of the way. Happiness lies in that scratch”, writes the author, who understands that certain people may find it strange to keep a list of all the chores that comprise a morning at home with small children. However, in her opinion, that list can also be a reminder that care work is dignified and important in its own right: “Something that can be easily forgotten in the whirlwind of those days.”

Finding the ordinary in the extraordinary

This vindication of the dignity and importance of tasks and jobs that are taken for granted and that, as such, seem to lack epic is also applied by Ní Ghríofa to motherhood. “In deciding to carry a pregnancy to term, a woman gives her body with a generosity so ordinary that it goes unnoticed, even by herself,” she writes in the pages of A ghost in the throat, in what for the poet is a meditation of wonder at the ordinary (and yet extraordinary) act of motherhood. “Pregnancy and birth, as well as the first months of motherhood, are physically and psychologically demanding… The act of tenderly caring for a baby during a period like this, of such a level of exhaustion, seems miraculous to me. The early motherhood efforts are a formidable achievement that deserves recognition.”

This recognition is expressed in the book through a luminous portrayal of motherhood and upbringing that contrasts with the current literary tendency to show the darker sides of the experience of being a mother. “I have also noticed this phenomenon and I find it fascinating,” says Ní Ghríofa, who believes that readers can only be enriched if there is a multiplicity of voices and experiences. “Encountering a variety of representations of motherhood allows us to understand and empathize with how different each individual experience can be. In the work of (Italian writer) Elena Ferrante, for example, the character of Leda in the lost daughter it is quite distant from my own personal experience. However, I gained a lot from engaging with her maternal ambivalence. Leda stayed with me. That is the power of literature,” she muses.

A literature whose canons have traditionally belittled the experience and story of motherhood (“it is both a shame and a loss”). Also the stories of childbirth, like the one that Ní Ghríofa narrates in a crude and poetic way. “Labor is a literary genre of its own. Each case progresses in its own way, and yet they all share certain elements: an emotional landscape that mixes shock, joy, and fear. Plus, the stakes are high: it’s a life and death story, it’s blood and shit, it’s deeply human and transformative. Can you imagine a boring birth story? Impossible! Birthing experiences are molten metal, and when we carve literature out of them, we are always carrying out a radical act,” she notes.

An act as radical and revolutionary as making breastfeeding almost one more protagonist of the novel. The milk with which Ní Ghríofa nurses her children splashes almost every page of A ghost in the throat, inspired by the notion of “writing with white ink”, articulated by the writer, philosopher and playwright Hélène Cixous. “Milk production was such a driving force in my life at that time that I couldn’t imagine erasing it from the narrative,” explains the Irish poet.

“What will become of me in the absence of this task, of all this cultivating and harvesting? Without milk, how will I see? Without milk, who will I be? ”, the essayist wonders in the final stretch of the book, when she is thinking about weaning her youngest daughter. It is almost impossible not to ask the author the question, now that three years have passed since the publication of her book in Ireland: “My long days as babies, breastfeeding and chasing the ghost of a long-dead poet are behind me and Although I sometimes miss those days, you can probably guess what was in store for me: in a life without milk, I now dedicate all my hours to writing my next book.

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By Nail

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