Light Rolling Slowly Backward is Ethna McKiernan’s fifth and most ambitious collection of poetry. McKiernan, who has a gift for metaphor, gives us 120 poems in her latest volume, a third of which are new. Her work, which some critics have compared to Mary Oliver and Adrienne Rich, ranges from the hilarious (police arrest her girl scout troupe of 13-year olds prancing in nighties at midnight on a Chicago street) to an elegy for George Floyd (where she tosses a “grenade of grief up to the sky”) to “The Radiation Room” where she compares the light beams sweeping her body for cancer to the reassuring twinkle of winter constellations overhead and “everyone she’s ever loved.”
“The poems here have an exact and hard-earned lyricism ... a difficult music which comes from experience rather than from any rhythmic holiday from it.” Eavan Boland
“McKiernan's vision is unsparing. She casts a cold eyewhich of course has the paradoxical effect in art of heartening us, of strangely warming us with the chill of truth.” Rory Brennan Books Ireland
“In these poems McKiernan draws everyday experiences with sure craft and fluid music. Her voice is one of empathy and honesty, and creates a kind of truth that only perfectly chosen words can tell.” Susan Roney O’Brien Poet
Ethna McKiernan has been twice awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board grant in poetry. Her first book, Caravan, was nominated for the Minnesota Book Award and her work has been widely anthologized, including in The Notre Dame Book of Irish American Poetry, 33 Minnesota Poets, and more. McKiernan holds an MFA from Warren Wilson Program for Writers. Her fourth book, Swimming With Shadows, was published by Salmon Poetry (Ireland) in 2019. McKiernan works in Street Outreach for a non-profit serving the Minneapolis homeless population. In an earlier life, she was CEO of Irish Books and Media, Inc., a school bus driver, and a grape picker in France.