Hennessy New Irish Writing: August 2018 winning poems

Poetry by Stephen Sexton, AM Cousins and Emily S Cooper



The gesture for light bulb unscrews the apple
from the stem and he eats it all:
the pulp and core and trace of cyanide
in the seeds the basin of the calyx
this is how he says there is
so much nothing in the world and then
the Professor boards the flight to California.

His colleagues mope and huff around
the princely rolltop his Eames
and Anglepoise and I have missed him
in his office working the long days precisely
while summer evenings come like guests
who call with figs and brie and chardonnay
and whom he's disinclined to see.

Since Matilda broke his heart and slipped the tank
and squeezed the mantle of herself
through an aperture no bigger than an apple
the Professor almost quit octopuses
to dilettante on apples as if a doorway
might yield the name of someone
who years ago traversed it.

There he is ahoy! aboard some slimy junk
crewed half-price in the off-season by men
who dive for abalone and let him wear the hat
and navigate a dull captaincy of elbows
as if he would recognise her babies
if they surfaced in his net her big fine eyes
don't float on the ocean forever Professor.


His office overlooks the park in which
the bony goths display each pinnacle
of sternum and pip of fingernail
in these the hotter solstice days and swelter
under all that black and silverware
for the rest of their lives let them suffer
nothing more than they suffer this.

  • Stephen Sexton's poems have appeared in Granta, Poetry London and Poetry Ireland Review. His pamphlet, Oils, published by The Emma Press, was the Poetry Book Society's Winter Pamphlet Choice. He was the winner of the 2016 National Poetry Competition and the recipient of an ACES award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. He lives in Belfast, where he teaches at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry



Hearts stilled by procured pills,
eyes sealed over dreams interrupted -
pale moon-angels laid out in bedpans
for the janitor
on his rounds.

One of the nurses - I was friendly with her
– rescued a perfect Thumbelina
(almost small enough to dance on the head of a pin)
and kept her in a jam-jar
next to her pillow.


After Annie Lennox

In the summer of perpetual rain
holy statues shifted uneasily,
swayed and rocked, moved

the faithful to travel miles to Ballinspittle,
stand in their droves in leaking raincoats
and waterlogged shoes to watch and pray.

I walked Our Lady's Island, counted my beads
and the days on my calendar
after each monthly let-down,

prayed for a different kind of miracle,
a seedling transplanted from fertile ground
and an angel to play with my heart.

  • Since studying for her MA in Creative Writing (UCD, 2013) AM Cousins's poetry has appeared in the Stinging Fly, the Shop, Poetry Ireland Review, The Honest Ulsterman, the Best New British and Irish Poets, 2017 and 2018. Her work was highly commended in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Competition 2015 and in 2016; in 2017, she won the Francis Ledwidge International Poetry Competition and the Bray Literary Society Poetry Competition. Anne also writes memoir and local history essays for Sunday Miscellany (RTÉ Radio 1). She lives in Wexford town and is writing her first collection of poetry.



(14-15th January 1988)

It wasn't snowing, but it could have been. There was black ice
on the back road, where the factories now stand, replacing

cow fields and hawthorn trees, and where I first asked your Mammy
to marry me. The Drift Inn was closed; fire burnt, stools upturned.

We drove fast out of Buncrana the bonnet bellowing
like a tin-can toucan, agape. Soon the Swilly caught up

with the car. There were swans on the water. Heads submerged in
wings. Some imaginary icebergs drifting aimlessly.

The windows steamed up with your Mammy's breath, I wound them down
and pressed my foot to the floor. Bearing down on blind corners.

As we reached the border, a soldier leaned in through the gap.
I shouted at him "My wife! My baby!" I cursed and swore.

In Dublin, Sean MacBride was dying and in Israel,
a new war. In Derry I held you for the first time, First Born.


This time I was sitting in the front seat,
not out of privilege, but to keep me separated
from the new arrivals sitting in the back.

To keep us entertained, he explained
the mechanisms of the car engine; brake systems,
two-stroke, four-stroke, spark-plugs, cylinders.

He told us that the Jeep he was driving
had died and been resurrected with the engine of another car,
placed gently like a cryogenically preserved brain in the bonnet.

Later in the bar he laughed at me for not being able to recite
"Injection! Compression! Combustion! Exhaustion!"
as he had us chanting in unison in the car.

I think he liked it when we called him Daddy.


On my way to work I pass a Morris Minor, navy and shiny,
at the side of the road, the 'for sale' sign written in biro
on lined paper, too small and thin to read.

I imagine myself in that car, every day for a week,
its bouncy pedals - kind of unreliable - and the dusty smell
that blows out of the sometimes broken heaters.

One day it's gone, a pale green Woody in its place.
I imagine that one from then on, same pedals but with
a ripped seat in the back and the smell was slightly smokier.

  • Emily S Cooper is a graduate of the Seamus Heaney Centre in Belfast and Goldsmiths, London. She has been published by Banshee, Belleville Park Pages and the Blackbird, among others. Shortlisted for the Mairtin Crawford Award during the 2017 Belfast Book Festival, she spends her time between Derry and Co Donegal