Finding inspiration in an Irish lament : A Ghost in the Throat, by Doireann Ni Ghriofa, is also the author of several books of poetry, which she has translated herself, from the Irish.

A woman once fell in love with a poem - a keening, a roaring - for a slain beloved. The 18th-century Irish noble woman Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill composed ''Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire'' after her husband was murdered by a powerful British official.

Arriving at the scene, Ni Chonaill, pregnant with her third child, drank handfuls of her husband's blood. ''My bright dove,'' ''my pleasure,'' she called him in the poem, ''my thousand bewilderments'' - why hadn't she been with him? She imagined her blouse catching the bullets in her pleats.

For decades, ''Caoineadh Airt Ui Longhaire'' survived the oral tradition. It is now recognized as one of the great poems of its age.

The poet Doireann Nu Ghriofa was also pregnant with her third child when she fell under its thrall, keeping a ''scruffy photocopy'' under her pillow. Where are Ni Chonaill's finger bones buried? she wondered; where can one leave flowers? The grave lies unmarked. Ni Chonaill's letters and diaries have all vanished. Her own son omitted her name from family records.

The ardent, shape-shifting ''A Ghost in the Throat'' is Ghriofa's offering. It includes her translation of  ''Caoinead Airt Ui Laoghaire,'' along with a hybrid of essay, biography, autofiction, scholarship - and a daily accounting of life with four children under the age of 6.

''This is a female text,'' Ni Ghriofa begins the book. ''This is a female text, composed while folding someone else's clothes. My mind holds it close, and it grows, tender and slow, while my hands perform innumerable chores.

This is a female text borne of guilt and desire, stitched in a soundtrack of cartoon nursery rhymes.'' 

''A Ghost in the Throat'' is her first book in prose. It has been real rapturously, but not always carefully. I've seen reviews that are grateful for how the writer evokes the tedium of domestic life and ''depredations'' of pregnancy on the body.

Ni Ghriofa is self conscious - an amateur, she apologizes repeatedly. She has no academic credentials, only her obsession - which is less with the actual woman, one feels, than with the poem's copiousness, it's mingling of grief, desire, revenge.

She is wary in libraries, a baby strapped to her chest, a toddler by her side. She writes the book we are  reading in the free car park while the baby sleeps, in a stolen hour before dinner.

So daunting at first, this work - the re-creation of a life, the translation of the poem - begins to feel familiar. ''In Italian, the word stanza means ''room.''

She notes. ''I reassure myself that I am simply homemaking, and this though steadies me, because tending to a room is form of a labor I know that I can attempt as well as anyone.''

She pieces together Ni Chonaill's as if she is mending a hem., keeping the story from unravelling further. She interrupts herself to stuff a child into the car seat, wrestle a duvet into its cover, and pick pieces of pasta off the floor.

 The story than uncoils is stranger, more difficult to tell, that those valiant accounts of rescuing a  ''forgotten'' female writer from history's ensures of the challenges faced by the female artist.

Ni Ghriofa, who spent 10 years  pregnant or breastfeeding, who almost lost her fourth child [there is a harrowing chapter set in the NICU], is immediately ready for another. Without the baby to occupy her, she wakes up shaking -

''What will become of me, in the absence of this labor, all this growing and harvesting? She cannot quit that ''exquisite'' pleasure of service, the purpose and physical pleasure in caring, feeding, holding a small baby.

Her husband pleads with her, asks if he can get a vasectomy [she thanks him for going through with it in the acknowledgements - a first in my reading experience.]

What is the ecstasy of self-abnegation, what are its costs? She documents this tendency without shame or fear but with curiosity, even amusement. She will train her hungers. ''I could donate my days to finding hers,'' she tells herself, embarking on Ni Chonall's story. ''I could do that, and I will.'' Or she says.

The real woman Ni Ghriofa summons forth is herself.

The World Students Society thanks review author Paru Sehgal.


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