Parramisha: A Romani Poetry Collection

Parramisha means our stories in Romany, the language of Gypsies.

Frances Roberts Reilly has deep roots in her Welsh Kale Romany ethnicity.

Parramisha is a collection of poetry that presents a Romani worldview.

Review by Bob MacKenzie

In firmly holding onto the desire to love

and cherish one another we keep faith

with many who have gone before us,

by honouring those we have lost.    “Forged in Fire”

Many poems are written to be engraved into the texture of paper, inked black shadows of what the poet means to say.  Others are written to be read out loud, performed before an audience.  While the voice of Frances Roberts Reilly can be heard in either of these ways, the poems in this book ask mostly to be read by the heart.  These are poems to be read again and again, each time revealing deeper meaning.

The reader’s journey begins, though, with the body that contains these poems. From beginning to end, this beautiful book invites the reader to enter and follow.  The cover is striking in its simplicity and, scattered among the pages, Ildiko Nova’s illustrations add their own shamanic beauty to enhance the poet’s word.

The misty lace moon lifts her veil / whispers parramisha – our stories/ Above, the night echoes with poetry rising.. “Patrins”

Opening Parramisha (our stories), “Shukar Romani chi lil/Letter to our Lovely Girl” is an epistolary poem to a Roma girl who lived long ago and died in the Roma Holocaust in Auschwitz.  It sets the background for all that follows.  Parramisha records the genetic memory of a people whose culture, recorded only in oral histories, had been largely erased yet survives to this day. So, begins Frances Roberts Reilly’s exploration of her Welsh Romany heritage.

In her first poem “Memorials,” Reilly modestly writes,

I am a small tributary of these greater beings./Their Gypsy harps play the melody of the mountains./I’ve been circling these peaks for years, practicing/an oration of scale and breadth.”

Later in the same poem, she adds,

Language must be quarried from our depths./Rappelling into the pit heats up jargon./Mining the depths, water cries over rocks./These are not shamanic stones./They are powerful protectors.

Here lie the guiding principles of this poet’s exploration of her Gypsy and Romany roots.  The 45 poems in this volume rest upon this solid foundation as they tell the stories of one family and, through them, of the Romany diaspora.

Although time is interwoven through these poems to reflect both the past and in some ways the future, the five sections move from a family history perhaps veiled in mists to the present day.  This transition is subtle and, if the poems are read in order from first to last, may not dawn on a reader until near the end, or not at all.  In this sense of change and growth always rooted in family tradition, there’s an underlying strength.

To discuss the strengths and successes of each of these poems and their rare failings would take a great deal of space.  It’s as a body of work that they are best viewed, each poem simply a part of the whole.  As a whole, Parramisha is a powerful melding of research and love.

Built upon Reilly’s dedication and craft and the desire to recover her family’s Romany culture, these poems all stand up well.  Taken as a whole, the poems weave a wonderful tapestry of an oral culture forced underground for generations.  Reilly writes, “I can lock into place this story/and secure all against loss of memory.”  The stories told in this book are a solid beginning toward that goal.

Cinnamon Press: Leaf by Leaf, 2020, 79 pp ISBN 978-1-78864-906-3.


“While the world’s Roma are extraordinarily diverse, Frances Roberts Reilly captures a segment of them in their particular time and place and narrates their lives with a voice imbued by love.” Dr. Cynthia Levine-Rasky sociologist teaches Romani studies at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.  

Parramisha will transport you to the heart of Welsh Romany life as it traces the Tatcho Romany Drom, the True Heart’s Path and brings the voices of old Gypsy souls back to life.” Raine Geoghegan, Romani poet & author of ‘they lit fires – lenti hatch o yog’.

“This deeply felt collection is an exemplar of how a Romani heritage may be celebrated…as a wellspring of cultural innovation and adaptation within diverse, contemporary society.” Dr. Thomas Acton OBE, Emeritus Professor of Romani Studies.

“Romany people so rarely get the chance to write but this book helps to fill that huge void. It does not disappoint.” Bob Dawson, Author of over 20 books on Romany Gypsies, educationalist, genealogist and president of the Romany and Traveller Family History Society.

This is urgent poetry that speaks to the injustices of exoticising, marginalising or scapegoating any group, especially, in this case, the diverse and rich Romani communities. Jan Fortune, Editor & Publisher, Cinnamon Press.

The book is available on Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones and Books Council of Wales