Carrying the Songs by Moya Cannon

Moya Cannon’s latest collection, Carrying the Songs, features stunning new poems along with selected poems from her previous collections, Oar and The Parchment Boat.


Cannon’s title poem begins with the lines: “It was always those with little else to carry / who carried the songs.”  Her insights into the deep human need for music are deft and evocative. Music is innate in nature and in the human body—the heart is a beating drum; the rhythms and songs inspired by the natural world are passed down through generations.  In “Carrying the Songs,” Cannon illuminates the primal, cultural rhythms around the world: “deep rhythms from Africa, / stowed in their hearts, their bones, / carrying the world’s songs.” These songs are not solely African songs, but the songs of everyone. Cannon infuses these poems with her own music through the use of lyrical language and sonic devices, with assonance being the most prevalent. Her poetry thrums and sings.


Her images are equally deft. She displays a heightened awareness of intimate and unassuming visual details. In the poem “Breastbone,” she finds beauty in the remains of a bird:


The loop of collar-bone is intact,

anchored still with sinew

to a perfect wind-keel;

the ribs are hollow straws;

the skewed shoulder-blades are thrown back

in the long curves of helmet-wings.


With her attention to technical detail, Cannon could just as well be describing DaVinci’s helicopter instead of skeletal remains. She finds beauty in the bone and sinew of the world.


Nature, in Cannon’s poetry, is sensual. She is attuned to sounds that others often disregard, as highlighted in the opening poem, “Winter Birds:”


Watching that nervous strut and clamour –
a tuning orchestra raucous before the signal
to rise on the windin a harmony

old as hunger –


The metaphor of geese as an orchestra, shifting anticipatorily before the baton of instinct is raised, irradiates the inherent relationship between music and nature. This relationship is deepened by the notion that harmony and hunger are equally ancient and primal. The poem suggests that music, like hunger, is a biological need, and it can be found everywhere if one is engaged with the natural world. Cannon’s own engagement with nature opens one’s eyes to its sometimes hidden beauty that is often startling and always compelling.


Carrying the Songs, Carcanet Press, 2007.  Reviewed by Susan Wilde.


More Moya Cannon:


Buy Cannon’s books at Amazon.

Cannon’s biography on Wikipedia.

Cannon’s membership in Aosdána.

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