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Drop in by Giovanna MacKenna

Today I have the absolute pleasure on inviting Giovanna MacKenna to reflect on her stunning debut collection How the Heart Can Falter (The Museum of Loss and Renewal Publishing, 2022).

Thank you for the invitation, Nigel. What author can resist an opportunity to talk about their book?! I’m delighted to be given this space to offer some insights into my collection How the Heart can Falter, and one poem in particular. As I see it, we all have our stories to tell; they are the mirrors of our lives. With this book I hold up mine in the hope that the readers may also see themselves.

Although I’ve been writing in one way or another for a long time, poetry really came to me in the months after my mother’s death. My father died many years before but there seemed to be some sort of permission that arrived with the grief I felt in losing both parents. It allowed me to take an unfettered look at my relationships with them, which weren’t always straightforward. The poem I’ve chosen today is Canvas. It is written from the point of view of a parent – my parents, me, anyone who has found themselves in a caring role to the young and the vulnerable – and suggests the speaker is someone who is completely aware of the power their actions will have on the future lives of their dependants.

This poem began as a picture in my mind, which is how most of my poems start. I was caught by the image of a blank canvas being loaded with paint of all colours: some bright; some dark; some muddy; some gloriously vibrant; and this led me to parental relationships. The children, the vulnerable, are the blank spaces being coloured by the actions of others. They are done to, and then they do to others, and, no matter how hard they work to lose those happenings, marks are left behind. Those marks are what shape us into the adults we become – and those people then go on to parent others, and the cycle continues.

The tone is hectic and violent. I wanted to express the helplessness of children in the face of challenging upbringings. I didn’t have the worst of childhoods, but I am still getting to grips with the affect the experiences of those years have had on the rest of my life, the choices I have made. I find it compelling to think that so much of what we do and how we behave comes from being shaped by those times, and how some of those events cannot be outrun.

Before I leave Canvas, I just want to say how much I enjoy reading this poem aloud. The line breaks are the only punctuation – I didn’t want it tethered to the page in any way – and it becomes a breathless, broken, portentous spell when spoken. 

How the Heart can Falter is collated with the intention of the reader following the narrative path from beginning to the end but, of course, it can be dipped in and out of too – which is usually how I start to read a poetry book, before going back to the beginning and taking it linearly. While the poems come from a very personal viewpoint, they aim to explore the experiences that build us all: those of the people whose actions are the tools that carve us, the unflinching hope of a child’s love, and the constant friction of a live lived in grief.

Many thanks for allowing me this space, Nigel.

Next week read my review of this wonderful debut, How the Heart Can Falter.


Nigel Kent’s collection of ekphrastic poems, Unmuted (Hedgehog Poetry Press), is inspired by a gallery of famous works by artists from the present and the past. Each artwork acts as a frame in a storyboard which he unfreezes and unmutes to reveal the narrative he imagines lies behind it. Even for those who have no interest in art these direct, accessible and moving poems will stand alone and promise to engage with issues that truly matter.

For details of how to purchase a copy, click here.

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