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In praise of Caitríona O’Reilly, by Neil Hegarty

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘She understands the limitations of the self and the fragility of the world – but this awareness of temporality in its turn gives O’Reilly’s work its authority and its arresting, lyrical power’

Caitríona O’Reilly: “wry humour is much in evidence throughout O’Reilly’s meticulous poetry, balancing what is frequently its devastating emotional freight”

In Floater, a poem in her second collection The Sea Cabinet, Caitríona O’Reilly takes a look at the inside of her own eye. What is this floater?

“What vandal took a house key
to the windscreen?”

Such wry humour is much in evidence throughout O’Reilly’s meticulous poetry, balancing what is frequently its devastating emotional freight. She is an exacting observer, roaming restlessly through worlds familiar, unfamiliar and fantastical, her native Wicklow and the melancholy flatlands of eastern England juxtaposed against the landscapes of the human mind and imagination – and of the vast contexts of history, geography and nature that consistently engage her creativity.

Never take any of this for granted: one’s own identity, the world that we see around us; all of this, she implies, can be removed, can shatter. She understands the limitations of the self and the fragility of the world – but this awareness of temporality in its turn gives O’Reilly’s work its authority and its arresting, lyrical power. A long-awaited third collection, Geis, is due this year.

Other favourites: Jennifer Johnston. Colette Bryce.

Neil Hegarty’s biography of David Frost is forthcoming from WH Allen. @nphegarty