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Before

Sean O’Brien, 8 December 1988

... Make over the alleys and gardens to birdsong, The hour of not-for-an-hour. Lie still. Leave the socks you forgot on the clothes-line. Leave slugs to make free with the pansies. The jets will give Gatwick a miss And from here you could feel the springs wake By the doorstep and under the precinct Where now there is nobody frozenly waiting. This is free time, in the sense that a handbill Goes cartwheeling over the crossroads Past stoplights rehearsing in private And has neither witness nor outcome ...

Welcome Major Poet!

Sean O’Brien, 14 October 1999

... We have sat here in too many poetry readings Wearing the liberal rictus and cursing our folly, Watching the lightbulbs die and the curtains rot And the last flies departing for Scunthorpe. Forgive us. We know all about you. Autumn gives way to midwinter once more, As states collapse, as hemlines rise, as we miss both, And just as our teeth fall discreetly into our handkerchiefs, Slowly the bones of our co-tormentees will emerge Through their skins ...

A Necessary Gospel

Sean O’Brien, 6 June 1996

Dear Future 
by Fred D’Aguiar.
Chatto, 206 pp., £14.99, March 1996, 0 7011 6537 5
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... It was as a poet that Fred D’ Aguiar first won recognition, with his 1985 collection Mama Dot, set in the Guyanese village where the English-born D’ Aguiar was sent to be educated. The place is dominated by Mama Dot, the archetypal grandmother, source of wisdom, comfort and discipline, a woman so important that when she falls ill nature itself goes to pieces: Bees abandon their queens to red ants and bury Their stings in every moving thing; and the sun Sticks like the hands of a clock at noon, Drying the very milk in coconuts to powder ...

Advice for the New Nineties

Julian Symons, 12 March 1992

HMS Glasshouse 
by Sean O’Brien.
Oxford, 56 pp., £5.99, November 1991, 0 19 282835 5
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The Hogweed Lass 
by Alan Dixon.
Poet and Printer, 33 pp., £3, September 1991, 0 900597 39 9
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Collected Poems 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 319 pp., £18.95, November 1991, 0 85635 923 8
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... some poets today deny them all. Her Serene Highness is distinctively and successfully present in Sean O’Brien’s poems of workaday life. He envisages, for instance, an ‘hour of general safety’ when you can rest peacefully and Leave the socks you forgot on the clothesline. Leave slugs to make free with the pansies in a world where momentarily ...

Colloquially Speaking

Patrick McGuinness: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945, 1 April 1999

The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 
edited by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford.
Viking, 480 pp., £10.99, September 1998, 0 670 86829 9
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The Firebox: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945 
edited by Sean O’Brien.
Picador, 534 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 36918 0
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... its wider social and cultural contexts – education acts, decolonisation, immigration – while Sean O’Brien, author of The Deregulated Muse, a fine critical panorama of contemporary poetry, commends ‘the emergence of new poetries from formerly unsuspected sources’. There is also a step towards devolution, with Armitage and Crawford including a ...

Wayne’s World

Ian Sansom, 6 July 1995

Selected Poems 
by Carol Ann Duffy.
Penguin, 151 pp., £5.99, August 1994, 0 14 058735 7
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... reviewers. ‘Given one brief opportunity to convert an uncommitted reader to poetry,’ testified Sean O’Brien, ‘I would place Carol Ann Duffy high on my list of examples.’ ‘Carol Ann Duffy is a poet at the height of her powers,’ insisted Ian McMillan in a review of Duffy’s last collection, Mean Time ...

Yearning for Polar Seas

James Hamilton-Paterson: North, 1 September 2005

The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule 
by Joanna Kavenna.
Viking, 334 pp., £16.99, February 2005, 0 670 91395 2
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The Idea of North 
by Peter Davidson.
Reaktion, 271 pp., £16.95, January 2005, 1 86189 230 6
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... his writing becomes. His examination of Northern poets such as David Morley, Simon Armitage and Sean O’Brien is marvellously sensitive to their regionalism and to the bitter undertow of history and class politics in some of their work. I have a grouse about both these books: neither has an index. Also, when reading Davidson I occasionally felt a ...

Jihad

James Wood, 5 August 1993

TheNew Poetry 
edited by Michael Hulse, David Kennedy and David Morley.
Bloodaxe, 352 pp., £25, May 1993, 1 85224 244 2
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Who Whispered Near Me 
by Killarney Clary.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £5.95, February 1993, 1 85224 149 7
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Sunset Grill 
by Anne Rouse.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £5.95, March 1993, 1 85224 219 1
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Half Moon Bay 
by Paul Mills.
Carcanet, 95 pp., £6.95, February 1993, 9781857540000
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Shoah 
by Harry Smart.
Faber, 74 pp., £5.99, April 1993, 0 571 16793 4
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The Autonomous Region 
by Kathleen Jamie.
Bloodaxe, 79 pp., £7.95, March 1993, 9781852241735
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Collected Poems 
by F.T. Prince.
Carcanet, 319 pp., £25, March 1993, 1 85754 030 1
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Stirring Stuff 
by Selwyn Pritchard.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 145 pp., £8.99, April 1993, 9781856193085
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News from the Brighton Front 
by Nicki Jackowska.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 86 pp., £7.99, April 1993, 1 85619 306 3
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Translations from the Natural World 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 67 pp., £6.95, March 1993, 1 85754 005 0
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... writes Geoff Hattersley). And it is true that a fighting politics seethes in poets like Sean O’Brien and Simon Armitage. One feels, however, that the best and most interesting poets in this large anthology are not the writers that fit inside the editorial fist. For instance, the introduction makes much of the ballad-writers like Paul Durcan ...

Martian Arts

Jonathan Raban, 23 July 1987

Home and Away 
by Steve Ellis.
Bloodaxe, 62 pp., £4.50, February 1987, 9781852240271
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The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper 
by Blake Morrison.
Chatto, 48 pp., £4.95, May 1987, 0 7011 3227 2
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The Frighteners 
by Sean O’Brien.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £4.50, February 1987, 9781852240134
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... all rolled into one. It crops up twice in this batch of collections, in poems by Steve Ellis and Sean O’Brien.The opening of ‘Summer ’84’ by Steve Ellis provides a fair sample:My father-in-law adored a drought.At the first sign of a sun in stasis,cracked soil, rumours on the radio,he’d mobilise an army of bucketsand scurry all over the ...

Bad Dreams

Robert Crawford: Peter Porter, 6 October 2011

The Rest on the Flight: Selected Poems 
by Peter Porter.
Picador, 421 pp., £12.99, May 2010, 978 0 330 52218 2
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... The Rest on the Flight, a chronologically arranged selection of Porter’s poems deftly edited by Sean O’Brien and Don Paterson, deals with his Scottish Australian ancestry, and with despair-haunted, hard-drinking, church-building men who have ‘no life but the marking-time of work’. Probably with Porter’s father’s garden in mind, it ends with ...

Anti-Writer

Clair Wills: Plain Brian O’Nolan, 4 April 2019

The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien 
edited by Maebh Long.
Dalkey Archive, 619 pp., £20, April 2018, 978 1 62897 183 5
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... In March​ 1957 Brian O’Nolan – better known under his pen names Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen – then aged 45, applied for a series of jobs at the radio broadcasting studios in Cork, including station supervisor, programme assistant, and balance and control officer. The same month he announced his candidacy for the Irish Senate ...

Nora Barnacle: Pictor Ignotus

Sean O’Faolain, 2 August 1984

... He grins with browning teeth. ‘There we are at the cashier’s desk in the hall, poor old Mossy O’Brien and myself, I’d been painting the whole week. Bags on the mat. The pony and trap outside on the gravel waiting to take us off to the GS&WR for Dublin. Behind the counter, in her black bombazine and gold chains, old Ma Coughlan, the toughest ...

The Intrusive Apostrophe

Fintan O’Toole, 23 June 1994

Sean O’Faolain: A Life 
by Maurice Harmon.
Constable, 326 pp., £16.95, May 1994, 0 09 470140 7
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Vive Moi! An Autobiography 
by Sean O’Faolain.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 377 pp., £20, November 1993, 1 85619 376 4
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... When, in 1941, Sean O’Faolain wrote to the Irish Times to protest about the ‘miserable fees’ paid by Irish radio for talks by Irish writers, he inadvertently set in train the most nightmarishly savage satire in that paper’s history. O’Faolain’s letter, and the response to it from the impoverished rump that constituted the Irish intelligentsia, led to the foundation by him of WAAMA, the Writers Artists Actors Musicians Association, a short-lived trade union for workers whose services were not exactly regarded as essential ...

Gallivanting

Karl Miller: Edna O’Brien, 22 November 2012

Country Girl: A Memoir 
by Edna O’Brien.
Faber, 339 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 0 571 26943 3
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... said one of the plain people of the West of Ireland, following the notoriety caused by Edna O’Brien’s fine first novel, The Country Girls, published in 1960. The notoriety was echoed in England: the last of England’s eminent Edwardian novelists, L.P. Hartley, described the novel, she has recalled, as ‘the skittish story of two Irish ...

Voices

Seamus Deane, 21 April 1983

The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry 
edited by Sean Mac Reamoinn.
Allen Lane, 272 pp., £8.95, November 1982, 0 7139 1284 7
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... rather than in terms of some unitary principle, racial, cultural, literary or any other. Sean Mac Reamoinn’s book, is illuminated throughout by this assumption. It is an introduction to Gaelic poetry which manages to avoid being propagandistic on its behalf. At the same time, it has no ecumenical ambition to reconcile two opposed literary ...

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