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Poems by Sinéad Morrissey (Carcanet Press, 2015)

Our Poetry Library Book Club in March 2015 looked at the work of T.S. Eliot Prize winning poet, Sinéad Morrissey. Morrissey has published five collections with Carcanet Press and we looked at a poem from each of these collections.

Some biographical context for Sinéad Morrissey:

Sinéad Morrissey was born in Portadown, County Armagh, in 1972. She spent her first 6 years living on working class republican housing estates before moving to Belfast, where she attended Belfast High School. She took a degree in English and German at Trinity College, Dublin, and has lived and worked in Japan, Germany and New Zealand. In 2002 she was appointed Writer in Residence at Queen's University Belfast, and she is currently Reader in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen's University, Belfast. 

This is Morrissey discussing her upbringing in 2003 (quoted in Writing home by Elmer Kennedy Andrews):
 "Society in Northern Ireland is rigidly divided between the Nationalist and Loyalist communities. Coming from a Communist household, militantly atheistic, was just one factor that contributed to a sense of dislocation, of belonging to neither community. Both my brother and I were given Irish names, attended Protestant schools, lived in Catholic areas, knew neither the 'Hail Mary' nor the words of  'The Sash', were terrified by agonised Catholic statues and felt totally excluded from the 12th July celebrations."

Her first collection There was fire in Vancouver was published in 1996 when she was 24. In 1990 she became the youngest poet ever to receive the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry, and has since been honoured with many other awards including the Michael Hartnett Award for Poetry, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship and a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. In 2013, she was the inaugural Poet Laureate for Belfast and in 2014 she won the T.S. Eliot Prize as well as the Irish Times Poetry Now Award (the latter for the second time) for her fifth collection Parallax.

"Grief and grace are never far from one another in Morrissey's work which revels in pivoting between seasons, emotions and places. Morrissey acknowledges imperfection, partiality and disorder while consistently displaying a sense of gratitude for what harmony there is, even if it only chimes in "almost perfect unison." The Troubles Archive - The Northern Ireland Troubles Archive is a web-based resource from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland about the ways in which the Arts reflected the Troubles in Northern Ireland:

Her five collections are There was fire in Vancouver (1996), Between here and there (2002), State of the Prisons (2005), Through the Square Window (2009), and Parallax (2013).

"Europa Hotel"  from There was fire in Vancouver page 16


1. Who is the 'you' in this poem?
2. This is the shortest poem we've ever looked at in Book Club. What might be the reasons a poet would choose to be so brief?
3. Is this a humorous poem?
4. The Europa Hotel was the most bombed hotel in Europe over the years of violence in Northern Ireland. But is this poem making a more general statement about the world?


"Goldfish"  from Between here and there page 43

(NB Shinkansen = Japanese high speed 'bullet' train, JR = Japanese Railway, Gifu is a prefecture on the island of Honshu)

1. Who (or what) is the 'you' in this poem?
2. Where is the poem set?
3. Is this a love poem?
4. How does the poet deal with time in this poem?
5. Is it difficult to read this poem at a leisurely pace?

See the anthology Our shared Japan : an anthology of contemporary Irish poetry / edited, with an introduction, by Irene De Angelis and Joseph Woods (Dublin : Dedalus Press, 2007), in which Irish poets, including Morrissey, respond to Japan.


"Genetics" from State of the prisons page 13

Audio of this poem on Poetry Archive:

1. Do you know what form this poem is written in?
2. It?s quite a loose version of a Villanelle ? does that work for you?
3. What sense do you make of the line ?With nothing left of their togetherness but friends / who quarry for their image by a river??
4. When the poet describes making a chapel with her hands, do you find yourself wanting to make a chapel with your hands? This is a children?s game but where does the poem go next?
5. In the final verse the poem is addressed to a lover and it become a love poem about divorce. Is this a hopeful poem, or when you read the title "Genetics" does that complicate things?


"Through the square window" from Through the square window p32

Video of Morrissey reading this poem:

1. Why are the dead washing windows?
2.Is the title 'Through the Square Window' referencing the children's programme 'Playschool'?
2. Why mention Delft? - See this painting by Vermeer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_of_Delft  
3. What do you make of the poems final image? 
4. Is this poem about motherhood/parenthood? Being overwhelmed? Could it be about post-natal depression?
5. I've heard it said that you should never write poems about your dreams. This poem won the National Poetry Competition - does it disprove that theory?


"Fur" from Parallax page 23

Listen to Morrissey read most of this poem at:
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAb63i1PErM 2mins 8 sec until 2 mins 58 sec


See and read more about the painting this poem is written after here:

1. The two subjects of this painting Jean de Dinteville (1504-55 died aged 51 - died 22 years after this painting) Georges de Selve (1508-1541, died aged 34 - died 8 years after painting). I would say that for the time they lived in they did have a few years to go.  Do you think the poet knew this but was trying to express something of the atmosphere of the painting, the mindset of the Tudors?
2. Do you need to have seen the painting to understand/appreciate this poem?
3. Do you like the way the lines about the skull "Too obvious a touch / to set the white skull straight" are presented with the space around them, separate from the rest of the poem? Why has the poet done this?
4. Why is this poem called "Fur"? Why not ?Skull??
5. Does the poem make you view the painting in a different way, see things you didn't before?  Do you see "bewitchery in those brown beards"?


All of these collections by Sinéad Morrissey and the anthology Our shared Japan are available from the Poetry Library for reference or loan.


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