Book Review: They Lit Fires: Lenti Hatch O Yog by Raine Geoghegan
Raine Geoghegan’s newest book, They Lit Fires: Lenti Hatch O Yog, is a powerful collection of storytelling. The cover art by Christine Ford features a caravan nestled in a setting of rich landscape. A kettle sits next to a cooking fire, waiting to pour the reader a cuppa. Full disclosure, I’ve read Geoghegan before and I know I’m in for a treat. Her first book, Apple Water: Povel Panni, captured my attention in full. My expectations are high and I am not disappointed.
Pulling Back the Curtain
‘You’re holding the queue up, move along, be quick.’
I moved along but I ‘eard her say to another teacher.
‘dirty little flower girl.’
somethin’ snapped inside me ‘ead and I said, without thinkin’.
‘I’m not dirty.’
–Dirty Little Flower Girl, Raine Geoghegan, They Lit Fires: Lenti Hatch O Yog
In this story, the child standing up for herself ends up on the receiving end of violence at the hands of the teacher speaking. This a child living on the margins of society. It is a reminder for me that there are margins of margins that I have had no contact or experience with in my life. In giving this girl a voice, Geoghegan reminds me that the most important thing I can do is read and listen. My heart breaks for this girl and for all of the other people subjected to this kind of prejudice.
I don’t know much about the Romany people. What I do know has been cobbled together from documentaries and news reports. I don’t believe that gives me any kind of understanding of what it’s like to be a Gypsy Romany. What I love about the writing in this book is that it doesn’t ask me for anything except my attention. This author pulls back the curtain and acts as a guide into a life experience that widens my world view.
What I know isn’t enough. What I know isn’t the whole story. I learn something about myself and about the Romanies every time I read one of Geoghegan’s pieces. I’m grateful for that.
Layers of Language
Jel on, me dad would say.
The cuckoo’s callin’, untie the grai,
up onto the vardo. It’s a kushti day.
Jel on-move on; Grai-horses; Vardo-wagons; Kushti-lovely
–Koring Chiriclo II- A Triolet, Raine Geoghegan, They Lit Fires: Lenti Hatch O Yog
Another beautiful aspect to much of Geoghegan’s work are the language keys she gives at the bottom of most of her pieces. I love being able to hear stories told using original languages. And though sometimes there’s a lot lost in translations, I feel like this holds a hand out to the reader and helps steep us even further in the stories of Romany people.
As a preface to one of the triolets the author states: “When the Romany’s were forced off the roads into houses, they were saddened by the fact that they could no longer hear the cuckoo sing.” Before reading further, I had to sit with this for a few moments. I’ve always wanted a home, a place to settle and root. For me, a home was tantamount to security and peaceful living. I don’t think I would have made a good traveller. But, through this statement and the following triolets featuring cuckoos, I can almost pine for the sound of them myself.
The word ‘forced’ stuck with me, as well. I understand force in a different way and it engaged my deepest empathy. This is the mark of a talented writer. She gives me so many moments to find bits of commonality from our human experiences, even though the background differs widely.
The Power of Story
“Gypsy Romanies have been sitting round the fire for hundreds of years. At the end of the day they come together, share stories, talk things through, sing songs and sometimes just sit in the quiet of the night. They carry the fire in their hearts.”
-Raine Geoghegan, They Lit Fires: Lenti Hatch O Yog
It’s fitting that the introduction to this book includes an author’s note explaining the power of story as it relates to Gypsy Romanies. I think about my own family and how every time we come together from afar our conversations are filled with stories. We remember the good, the bad, the traditions and share that with the future. Our children grow up hearing these stories and pass them on to the next generation. These stories weave richness into ancestries.
This collection of monologues, haibun and songs is a window into a world where the kingdom of story is revered. It is a reminder that all cultures carry rich traditions and languages. It is also a reminder that when we can put aside judgment and just listen, we might just find ourselves enriched and connected in the most unexpected ways.
About the Author
RAINE GEOGHEGAN is a poet and prose writer of Romany, Irish and Welsh descent living in Worcestershire. She is a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net 2018 nominee and was also nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2019. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester. To find out more, please visit her website at: https://www.rainegeoghegan.co.uk/
About the Publisher
THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS “launched in October 2017, although our first publication was our magazine ‘A Restricted View From Under The Hedge’ which appeared in late March the following year. We are proud to be the home for the Cult of the Spiny Hog, which is our very own ‘club’ for readers and writers of poetry.”
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