In praise of Michelle O’Sullivan, by Gerald Dawe

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘Her poems are tuned to the visible world but carry within marvellous, haunting refrains of absences’

Since the 1980s a host of fascinating women poets emerged from the west of Ireland and went on to produce volumes of excellent verse with many leading Irish and British publishers. Their success and the public attention they received was timely. Now, as in the nature of such things, a new wave of poets is beginning to emerge from the west and of these Michelle O’Sullivan impresses me greatly as a poet of real artistic endeavour and concentration. Her poems are tuned to the visible world but carry within marvellous, haunting refrains of absences, the working of lives intently observed or, at times, overheard which make the sudden presences of her poetry so distinctive. It is the Mayo landscape – rivers, mountainsides, livelihoods – that makes her first collection of poetry, The Blue End of Stars, such a stunning debut. But, as with the ending of Halcyon where the poet imagines meeting the enchanting 17th-century Japanese poet, Basho, there is nothing taken for granted in this most distinctive of voices:

"He gives me a pair of hummingbirds /
one for my pocket, one for my hand."

Michelle O'Sullivan, born 1972, was educated at University of Hertfordshire, worked in England as a primary teacher, has lived in Greece and the US, and now lives in Co Mayo with her two children and works as a tutor. The Blue End of Stars, published by Gallery Press (2012), was awarded the dlr Strong/Shine Award for 2013.

Gerald Dawe has published nine collections of poetry, most recently, Mickey Finn’s Air (2014). The Stoic Man: Poetry Memoirs and Early Poems will appear later this year. He teaches at Trinity College Dublin.