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Meantime by Majella Cullinane

Meantime is a moving collection of poetry written by Majella Cullinane that attempts to bridge the unbridgeable – the 18,000 kilometres between her home in Aotearoa New Zealand and her dying mother in Ireland. As her mother's language dissolves into the haze of dementia, Cullinane's poems become a tender vigil, a connection point across vast distances that speaks both to personal heartbreak and the universal experiences of illness, loss, and the disintegration of all that was once familiar.

Cullinane's attentiveness and vulnerability give each poem a searing intimacy. We, as readers, feel her anguish as a daughter unable to be at her mother's bedside, grappling with the cruelty of a world that has become different and upended due to the illness. Her words echo the disorienting strangeness of watching a loved one slip away, of having one's reality inconceivably shifted and rendered unrecognisable.

Yet amidst the sorrow, Cullinane finds moments of profound grace. In Meantime, she pays tribute to the enduring power to heal and connect across seemingly impassable chasms. Her poems become a warm, loving conversation with her mother, a celebration of memory even as it frays and evaporates.

Woven throughout the collection is a deep reverence for the sanctity of the mother-daughter bond, a connection that transcends physical boundaries and the ravages of time and disease. Cullinane's poems are constantly permeated by sorrow yet buoyed by an unwavering love that refuses to release its hold.

In her heartbreaking yet reverential subset Meantime, Cullinane captures the essence of her collection – a tender reckoning with absence and presence, a daughter's vigil unfolding across "uncrossable" distances. As she listens to her mother's favourite hymns alone in her bedroom, half a world away, Cullinane conjures the vivid sensory memories of her childhood, the incense and candlelight of the church, the familiar cadences of the congregation's voices. In this moment, time and space seem to melt away, and mother and daughter are reunited in the eternal embrace of memory and song.

Meantime is an intimate, graceful exploration of the bonds that tether us to one another, even in the face of life's most formidable challenges. Cullinane's poems are a potent reminder of the resilience of love and the human spirit, a balm for all those who have weathered the anguish of watching a loved one slip away.

Above all, it is a celebration of voice – the voices we cherish, the voices that comfort us, and the voices that endure long after we are gone.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Otago University Press


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