getting our irish on: two poems from barbara crooker’s book of kells

“For the whole world was holy,/not just parts of it. The world was the Book of God./The alphabet shimmered and buzzed with beauty.” ~ Barbara Crooker (“The Book of Kells: Chi Rho”)

Please help yourself to a cup of Irish Breakfast Tea


Happy Almost St. Paddy’s Day!

Today we’re channeling our inner green with a little Irish breakfast and two food poems from Barbara Crooker’s new poetry collection.

The Book of Kells (Cascade Books, 2018) is Barbara’s eighth book, a masterwork of stunning, exquisitely crafted poems that left me breathless with awe and an even more acute yearning to visit Ireland again.



In addition to meditations and musings on the world’s most famous medieval manuscript (four lavishly decorated Gospels of the New Testament in Latin), there are observations about the Irish countryside, its flora and fauna, as well as personal reflections on time well spent during her two residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co. Monaghan, Ireland.


Tyrone Guthrie Centre


Barbara marvels at the  beauty and singular magic of the Emerald Isle, whether blackbird, swan, lake, fuschia, wind, rain, the colors of autumn leaves (thank you, fairies), or “the bright splash of daffodils.” Ever present, profoundly human, she writes with an open, generous heart, reminding us to pay close attention to small miracles: “The rain’s thin music has set the world humming.” (“What is this world, but the body of God?”)

And of course I love that Barbara always knows just how to bring the delicious:


“Irish Breakfast” by Susan Carlin



I was on my way to Lavina’s scones, butter-ready
from the oven, crusty and cratered, awaiting their dollop
of jam. The morning clouds had whipped themselves up
to a billow, mounds of soft cream. The plink plink
song of a chaffinch dotted the air like currants. Daffodils,
pats of butter on thin stems, did their little dance, and the edible
world spread its feast before me on the fresh green tablecloth.
Oh, how delicious, this sweet Irish spring.


Lavina’s scones (photo by Barbara Crooker)



Since Barbara wrote at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre during spring and fall, her poems reference both seasons. It sounds like her experiences at these retreats would be a dream come true for any writer or artist. Imagine being nourished, body and soul, by Ireland’s lush rural landscape and rich cultural heritage!

It certainly doesn’t sound like Barbara took anything for granted. In addition to wonder, reverence, and curiosity, another thread running through her poems is immense gratitude and celebration. Who would not be uplifted by this gorgeous praise poem?


photo by Tyrone Guthrie Centre


~ Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland

Let’s hear it for this day, clouds racing by
deckled with gold leaf, and pines that have
inked themselves onto the sky. Let’s thank
the tea leaves for yielding their tannins,
released by the kettle’s steam. And the leaves
on the trees, three cheers, for changing into colors
crayoned by a child: Burnt Siena. Raw Umber.
Goldenrod. Red Orange. I’m grateful to the gas
burner that bloomed with blue petals cooking
my porridge, to the cows in green pastures
for making the cream. Later, I know I’ll be grateful
for lunch, red and green lettuce blessed with oil,
slivers of tomatoes, ham on the side. And one yellow
pear, a treasury of gold, its sweetness married to the salt
tang of Cashel Blue. Give it up for the walk that I took
in the woodlands, ancient trees rising from fern-covered
ground. And the long lake, its waters, a mirror, reflecting
two swans. Bravo! for the kingfisher I just caught a glimpse
of, exclamation of turquoise, bluer than blue. Let’s not forget
about dinner, a sea bass so tender it fell off the plate, surrounded
by root vegetables, stars of the season: carrots, turnips, potatoes
crusted with cheese. But wait, there’s an encore, a platter of rhubarb,
a blanket of meringue. Most of all, let’s hear it for the pleasures
of the table: good conversation, the music of forks and spoons
hitting the plates. And at the end of the day, there we are,
sprinkled with starlight and a darkness that covers us, tucks us
in tight. Tomorrow, there’s another day coming, not quite like
this one, but look, clouds are blushing, and here comes the sun.




So many swoon-worthy lines in this poem; extra joyous for me to read her references to blue: the blue petals of the gas burner, Cashel Blue cheese, and that glorious “exclamation of torquoise, bluer than blue”!

The largess Barbara shares with the reader is a blessing — like being sprinkled with the starlight of her poetic gift. 🙂


The Book of Kells contains 340 folios and has been bound in 4 volumes since 1953. It is commonly regarded as the greatest illuminated manuscript of any era because of the intricacy, detail and majesty of the artwork.


Lucky for us, Barbara will be here soon to tell us more about The Book of Kells, which features in its first section 21 poems inspired by Ireland’s greatest national treasure. Having already written over 200 ekphrastic poems, Barbara deftly offers keen observations about TBOK’s various aspects, “from the ink and pigments used by the scribes and illustrators to the various plants, animals, and figures depicted on its pages, including the punctuation and use of decoration in the capital letters.”


The Book of Kells is displayed in the Long Room of the Trinity College Old Library in Dublin


Informing the whole is the brilliant juxtaposition of ancient and modern. Barbara, a 21st century scribe, ruminates on a work of art created by diligent monks over 1,000 years ago. Such a remarkable contrast between pre-literate times (when “the word” was holy, coveted), and our electronic age (with pixels, acronyms, and emojis flying through cyberspace often with little or no forethought).

Imagine a world where books/were scarce. Where copying was done by human hand./Where the word itself was sacred.

Do we value words as others once did? Do they hold the same power?



While you ponder that, have another cup of tea, another bite of scone or bowl of porridge, and some Irish shortbread.




Hope your St. Patrick’s Day includes good music and a lively jig (we can’t stop our egg cups from dancing), an encounter with a leprechaun, a bawdy limerick or two, and some merry malarkey. 😀




Here’s an Irish blessing to set you on your way:

May your joys be as bright as the morning, and your sorrows merely be shadows that fade in the sunlight of love.

May you have enough happiness to keep you sweet, enough trials to keep you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to keep you happy, enough failure to keep you humble, enough success to keep you eager, enough friends to give you comfort, enough faith and courage in yourself to banish sadness, enough wealth to meet your needs and one thing more; Enough determination to make each day a more wonderful day than the one before.



And may you find your pot of gold!



written by Barbara Crooker
published by Cascade Books, 2018
Poetry, 88 pp.


If you’re interested in learning more about The Book of Kells,  Medieval Irish art and theology, how illuminated manuscripts are made, and more, consider taking this free online course offered by Trinity College Dublin: “The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Manuscript.” It will be taught by Rachel Moss, Associate Professor in the History of Art and Architecture, and Fáinche Ryan, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of Loyola Institute. The four-week course begins Monday, March 18, 2019. Click here to sign up!


Heidi Mordhorst is hosting the Roundup at My Juicy Little Universe. Zip on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Have a nice GREEN weekend!


This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!




🍀 This post created by the Alphabet Soup resident leprechauns.

Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

47 thoughts on “getting our irish on: two poems from barbara crooker’s book of kells

  1. Wow. Her writing is truly breathtaking. Thanks for this lovely post, Jama. I admit I wasn’t familiar with her work, but a quick google check revealed that she lives a few towns away from me! I will definitely read lots more of her work. It’s so inspiring. And don’t let those adorable egg cups get away! Where do you find these things?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Small world — people are sometimes closer than you think. But then, reading her beautiful words brings her right to us any time we want. Do read more of her poetry — she’s definitely one of my fave contemporary female poets — her work is always inspiring and accessible.


    1. Hello…she meant SCONES. SCONES!
      The song of the scones that calls for jam and clotted cream.
      You’d think I’d broken into the Bushmills and Guinness by 9:18 am. Sheesh! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara’s book is on my list, clearly, I need it now, Jama. It would be so wonderful to see the display in the Long Room of the Trinity College Old Library. That picture, wow! And oh, to write precious words as Barbara Crooker does: “Daffodils,
    pats of butter on thin stems” and “plink plink/song of a chaffinch dotted the air”. The celebration of the day makes me smile, as does that walking egg cup! Now I just need a scone! Thank you for a beautiful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had been to Trinity College once, but only walked around briefly on campus grounds and did not enter the Old Library. Supposedly every day they display a different page of the Book of Kells for visitors to see. I’m trying to imagine those scribes writing everything by hand. I’m sure they never imagined we’d be looking at their work today.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We were in Ireland for the first time last August (despite my Fiona being, according to, 97% Irish) and visited Trinity and laid eyes on the Book of Kells. What a treat this post, and what a treat it must have been for Barbara to write there. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Goodness, that is beautiful. I’ve had the privilege of being in a writing group and in grad school with Irish people (a couple of whom got American citizenship) and I truly have felt blessed with being in the presence of their facility with language. Some amazing, beautiful words.

    I think I need to go to Dublin as soon as this Brexit thing gets settled…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jama, I feel entirely blessed by this post today. Thank you for the richness and the photography and the poetry and the passion you put into these. I just love visiting every week.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You post breathes such beauty in words, both yours and Barbara Crooker’s, and in photographs of wonderful treats. And now you have me searching for more about poeima poetry. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. And here I was going to make boring ole Irish soda bread (which we *love*) — now I need to add something French (from your cookbook post) and perhaps scones to go with my breakfast tea (my favorite kind of tea). Love these poems.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Barbara always seems to include food poems in her books. I would love her work even if she didn’t — but it makes things all the sweeter.


    1. Oh, I know what you mean. This feeling of being “home” is so true of her poetry — I think because she is so down to earth and accessible, her words so natural and unpretentious, that we relate to what she’s saying so easily. I think she writes with a genuine desire to communicate; there are some who write obtuse/abstract stuff more to “show off” and please themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. So much goodness here to enjoy today, Jama! Crooker’s poem about scones had my mouth watering, and I have signed up for the course thanks to you. I remember making my way to the Book of Kells at Trinity – what a wondrous place!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Gosh those scones look good, yum! Thanks for this gorgeous post Jama, Barbara’s “The Book of Kells” looks marvelous, and what wonderful retreats she’s been on. I tried out a new recipe this evening a curry mango chicken, my Mom loved it–food can satisfy us in so many different ways. Before I took her to an exhibit at the Block Museum of Art which is part of Northwestern University. We saw the exhibit “Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time. I mention it because it had a handful of very old manuscripts completed by hand and reminiscent of what you shared here.

    Watch out for that run away egg holder…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Well, that’s what I get for being out of town the Friday you shared this – I almost missed it! But, as you know, it sings to my soul. Thanks to Barbara Crooker and thanks so much for sharing. (Did I ever tell you my visiting-the-Book-of-Kells story with Morgan when she was four?) ;0) PS – We LOVE our Barry’s tea, we do.


    1. Glad you found your way here after all, Robyn. Nice to know you’re a Barry’s Tea fan too. 🙂 Barbara will be dropping by for a chat in a couple of weeks to talk more about The Book of Kells. Haven’t heard your story of seeing the real BOK with Morgan. That library looks beautiful!


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