Episode 13: Mariah Whelan

Mariah Whelan

Mariah Whelan is a poet, teacher and interdisciplinary researcher from Oxford. Her debut collection, a novel-in-sonnets called the love i do to you, was published in November 2019 by Eyewear. Poems from the novel were shortlisted for The Bridport Prize, The Melita Hume Prize and the manuscript won the AM Heath Prize. A second collection of poems the rafters are still burning which explores writing, constructions of whiteness and museum archives is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in 2020.

Mariah is currently finishing a PhD in The Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester where she is writing a second collection of poems, researches trauma and representation in contemporary Irish fiction and teaches Creative Writing.

Mariah is a co-Creative Director of ‘Truth Tellers’ an interdisciplinary research project funded by King’s College London that brings artists and academics together to develop collaborative methodologies in the social sciences. Mariah also co-edits bath magg, an online magazine of new poetry that is a space for excellent writing from established and emerging poets.

the love i do to you is a novel-in-sonnets. The poems alternate between two voices: ‘he’ and ‘she’ who take turns telling their love story. The first two poems in this selection are from the first third of the book set in Newcastle upon Tyne during the financial crisis in 2009. Unable to get jobs the pair end up in South Korea (He) and Japan (She). The final two poems are set in these two countries.

Mariah’s book is a tour de force of writing, shuttling adeptly between continents and different perspectives and voices whilst all the while pressing the narrative along. In the podcast, Mariah and Niall discuss - amongst other things - why Mariah chose to write a novel in sonnets, where the inspiration for the book came from, and how she managed to craft the book successfully. Mariah also reads four poems from the book, available to read below, and explores the connections between them.

All four poems are copyright © Mariah Whelan, 2019. They are reprinted from the love i do to you (Eyewear, 2019) by permission. Find out more about Mariah’s book on the Eyewear website.

The Coach Station, St James Boulevard, Newcastle upon Tyne

Bright station and all around soft dark.
Toothpaste and sleep, coffee and the white crunch
of salt on the concourse. The headlamps snorting –
boarding as the first gull caws began to ricochet.

That’s how it was the morning I left,
too cold for snow, hills thick with February
sloped black-backed and low to where the Tyne
bloomed in the wake of a boat.

I was less going somewhere than getting out,
away from the terraces and rain, tower blocks –
the yellow Metro stops that took me in loops,
out into the waking-up day.

But mostly I was getting away from you,
the river below breathing as all rivers do.

by Mariah Whelan 

52 Malcolm Street, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne

When I was three, Dad took us out to see the shoals
glittering off Warrenpoint. I remember the rhythms
of water, peering into the grey sea, the cruel way
they left their catch to die, each scale a prism.

Back on shore he told me, “Keep one, son” trawled
a blade through its gills, the sun a chrism on the open
wound. Even though I was so small I knew
I couldn’t cry: my lips went numb with biting.

When we made love, I dipped my head in memory.
Held tight, trying to concentrate on pillowcase, sheet-seams,
fish limbs flat against the dock, trying to control myself,
haul our small boat across the fathoms.

I didn’t know what you needed. Whatever it was
for the love of God, I wished you’d take it.

by Mariah Whelan 

Tsukiji Fish Market, Harumi Street, Tokyo

The last tuna lay on a wooden slat, dead. Silver belly split,
his curves an arch corrugated in snow. The meat hissed
with cold, the ridged place where its gills once were stuffed
with tarpaulin, head and lunate tail removed.

The channels were thick with venous slurry, our feet disturbing
the hot froth of blood, bleach and steam escaping from bodies.
There were buckets of octopuses still alive, eels elvering
to catch what the fish-mongers’ knives sent flying.

We were desperate to show we weren’t tourists,
stiffened when an American man reached to touch the tuna:
“Bakka,” Kristen hissed, meaning stupid. The chef looked up,
laughed and reached across the stall with two fresh pieces –

they wobbled on the blade, gelatinous with fish stink:
“Eat,” he said, the trails of connective tissue dangling.

by Mariah Whelan 

Sheedae Apartments, Suncheon, South Korea

Your voice had not been to sleep. I heard
the watching inside it draw back, across
the Sea of Japan, Sea of Korea, curling
voices and distance like prayer scrolls.

“You can’t not talk to me forever,” I said,
I heard the particular click of binary
that was your breath: you were on the edge,
half turned-away, the wanting of you thrilled me.

“Fine,” you said. “Let’s talk.” But that
was too much, already. Smelled like attack
to me, already faithless, shouldering
off the dirt like it was dark and clotted panic.

Why did you always get to be so sad?
Your surrenders like a weapon descending.

by Mariah Whelan