Sinéad Morrissey

Life
1972- ; b. Portadown, the dg. of communist parents; lived in Belfast; grad. in Mod. Langs., TCD (English & German), and later completed a PhD on 18th c. literature in 2003; several times winner of Irish Schools Creative Writing Award during teenage; youngest ever winner of Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award, 1990 [aetat. 18]; issued There was a Fire in Vancouver (1996), winner of Eric Gregory Poetry Award; holder of Arts Council Award, 1999; she has lived and worked in New Zealand, Japan and Germany; returned to Belfast, 1999; issued Between Here and There (2002), winner of the Rupert & Eithne Strong Award, 2002;
 
issued The State of the Prisons (2005), which was short-listed for the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Irish Times and Poetry Now Prize (Dún Laoghaire), 2006; settled in Belfast, and lectures in creative writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, QUB; contrib. to Love Poet, Carpenter: Michael Longley at Seventy (July 2009); Morrissey read her poetry at the 2nd British & Irish Contemporary Poetry Conference, held at QUB, Sept. 2010; issued poetry collections Through the Square Window (2009), much concerned with the birth of her son; winner of Irish Times/Poetry Now award; issued Parallax (2013), inspired by photos of Victorian photographer Alexander Robert Hogg; shortlisted for Irish Times Poetry Prize, 2013; has written script for Land of Giants, celebrating Northern Ireland in outdoor drama; appt. Belfast Poet Laureate, Oct. 2013; m. to Justin Pond, an American.

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Works
Poetry
  • There was a Fire in Vancouver (Manchester: Carcanet 1996), 64pp.;
  • Between Here and There (Manchester: Carcanet Press 2002), 58pp.;
  • The State of the Prisons (Manchester: Carcanet 2005), 80pp.
  • Through the Square Window (Manchester: Carcanet 2009), 59pp.
  • Parallax (Manchester: Carcanet 2013).
Fiction
  • In My Sister’s Shoes (Penguin Ireland 2007), 320pp.
Miscellaneous
  • Goldfish: for Joseph [Broadsheet, n.s. 3] (London: Bernard Stone, Turret Books 1997), 1 sh. [30x21 cm];
  • “Her First Communion”, a poem, is incl. in A Conversation Piece, ed. Adrian Rice & Angela Reid (Nat. Museums & Galleries of N. Ireland [2002]), rep. in The Irish Times (29 June 2002).

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Listen to Sinead Morrissey reading “The Flight of the Heart” by Louis MacNeice at the MacNeice Conference (QUB Sept. 2007) online; accessed 29.09.2010.)
  —Also, her own poems:  
  “Through the Square Window”
  “Found Architecture”
  “The Nightwatch”
  “The Clangers”
link*
 
*link broken at 02.02.2011
 

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Criticism
Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, ‘New Voices (Peter McDonald, Sinead Morrissey, Alan Gillis and Leontia Flynn)’, in Writing Home: Poetry and Place in Northern Ireland, 1968-2008 (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer 2008), pp.249-86; Michael Parker, ‘“Neither Here Nor There”: New Generation Northern Irish Poets (Sinead Morrissey and Nick Laird)’, in Irish Literature Since 1990: Diverse Voices, ed. Scott Brewster & Michael Parker (Manchester UP 2009) [Chap. 8].

Reviews
Katie Donovan, ‘You Could Do Poetry’, in The Irish Times (17 Oct. 1995); Selina Guinness, review of Between Here and There, in The Irish Times (8 June 2002), Weekend; Fiona Sampson, review of The State of the Prisons [ et al.], in The Irish Times (11 June 2005), Weekend, p.11 [extract]. See also Una Bradley, ‘Grounded in Belfast, where it all began’, interview-article, in the irish Times (17 Aug. 2013), Weekend.

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Commentary
Fiona Sampson, review of The State of the Prisons [ et al.], in The Irish Times (11 June 2005), Weekend, p.11: ‘Some of this splendour comes from its subject matter: as well as the historical poems the cover blurb chooses to highlight, this is a collection stuffed with the booty of travel both actual (to China, over the Gobi Desert ) and imagined (a Polar region inhabited by a lover after Brecht, the Macedonia of Alexander the Great). / It’s far from self-congratulatory travelogue, though. Morrissey’s is a travelling intelligence which acknowledges its own implication in a world riven with international affairs. /In “Praise Of Salt” gives us the “cut and lash / of voices pitched to shatter glass” as the poet shakes salt, that Biblical mineral of life, over her breakfast egg while listening to news from the war in Iraq . / If this sounds cosy, it isn’t. Morrissey’s egg quietly debunks the comfort of our Western liberal consensus. And this dangerous quietness works as intensifier throughout the book. The source of nocturnal worries is “Sometimes childlessness, stretching out into the ether / like a plane”. Apparently effortless understatement - there’s nothing emotionally “splashy” about this image of a hurt which goes on “unto all generations” - is in fact perfectly controlled, down to the omission of the final full-stop, which keeps it limitless. / Elsewhere, “Migraine” inhabits the horror of the Moscow theatre siege with a doubled vividness: “a tangle of darkness like a Rorschach blot / where his expression had been, opening inward ...”. Another persona poem, “Stepfather”, gives us New Zealand with odd echoes of Australian Les Murray ‘s jaunty modernist astonishment. [...; &c..]’

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John McAuliffe, review of Parallax, in The Irish Times (26 Oct. 2013), Weekend: &145;[...] Morrissey’s Parallax is in the same thematic vein as Through the Square Window, closely recording family life but marrying those observations to more panoramic scenarios: in A Matter of Life and Death, Morrissey remembers the hours before the birth of her second child, hours she spent watching David Niven star in the eponymous film. That Niven’s character is himself a would-be poet delights Morrissey, and she quotes him quoting Walter Raleigh (in his “scallopshell of quiet”) before her attention turns to the events that are overtaking her, also “a matter of life and death”, as the birth of her child is accompanied by the memory of her “granny, who died three weeks ago / on a hospital ward in Chesterfield making room as she herself predicted”. The poem’s strong narrative turns and length allow Morrissey room to develop and intertwine two scenes, as she also does in a poem about turning 40 (“sludgy disconnectedness / starting in the brain”), which diverts into a kind of Egyptian death wish: “But turning forty banishes my younger self // to a separate outhouse, somewhere stony / and impassable, hot, fly-infested, like the city / of Tetu on the Nile which became the Otherworld” (The House of Osiris in the Field of Reeds). That surging change of direction is typical of Morrissey’s best poems. [...] The book’s title draws attention to the way Morrissey navigates her subjects by using different viewpoints, but in the shorter poems the switch in focus from well-observed details to a more abstract register feels abrupt and a little mechanical, as in the similes of Daughter: “Sh’s learning this house / like a psalm: the crack / in the kitchen sink, the drawers and all / their warring contents, / the geography of each room / immutable as television.” (Television programmes recur in this varied collection, which draws on a number of Scandinavian crime series, BBC Four documentaries, The Wire and an enjoyable pastiche of Chandleresque pillowtalk).’ (See full text online; accessed 26.10.2013.)

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Notes
There was a Fire in Vancouver (1996) is organized around the theme of the journey: from communism to spiritual affirmation; from life in Ireland to life abroad, and return; and from the security of given structures - the family in particular - to independence and security in the self. Poems of childhood and communist upbringing open the collection. There are poems about death; about love, its loss and the disorienatation that ensues; and a number which deal with angels and the implications of religious faith. (COPAC summary - online.)

Between Here and There (2002) encompasses the Orient, the Antipodes, America and an Ireland which recent history has changed: a country observed through eyes that travel and time have made clear, dispassionate and disabused. The poems are still hungry for grace, but in each new geographical and spiritual territory what seems promise is undermined by material and cultural reality; the ceremonies and beliefs of Japan, for example, yield the most colourful spiritual barrenness; and when the poet returns to Ireland it is with a political anger sharpened by the very directness of her vision. Her use of traditional forms is freer and more assured than ever: her wit is visual and semantic, and wonderfully nuanced in her unusual rhythms of speech. (COPAC summary - online.)

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Through the Square Window (2009) explores fertility, pregnancy, and the landscape of early childhood in poems that are by turns tender, exuberant and unsettling. Pitched against the envious dead, these diverse narratives of birth and its consequences are rooted in literary and historical contexts - from Aristotle's theory of spontaneous generation to Lewis Carroll's Alice - that amplify her theme. Infancy is for Morrissey the rich and contested territory in which what it means to be human in a precarious world is disclosed. (COPAC summary - online.)

Parallax (2013) documents what is caught, and what is lost, when houses and cityscapes, servants and saboteurs (‘the different people who lived in sepia’) are arrested in time by photography (or poetry), subjected to the authority of a particular perspective. Assured and disquieting, Morrissey's poems explore the paradoxes in what is seen, read and misread in the surfaces of the presented world. (COPAC summary - online.)

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