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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 ...


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 ...

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 ...
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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... what Poe called Her Serene Highness the Archduchess Ana-Pest. It is a mistaken puritanism that makes 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 ...

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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... entitle their introduction ‘The Democratic Voice’, binding the last fifty years of poetry into 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 ...
6 July 1995
Selected Poems 
by Carol Ann Duffy.
Penguin, 151 pp., £5.99, August 1994, 0 14 058735 7
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... recruited partly through the evangelising efforts of a group of influential fellow-poets and 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 ...

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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... omission is Russia). The nearer he gets to the North of England and Scotland the more deeply felt 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 ...


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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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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... from Frank O’Hara (‘I think on the whole I would rather read/ Frank O’Hara than Geoffrey Chaucer,’ 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 ...


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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... attempts by Irish ‘artists’ (a term of abuse in his lexicon) to manufacture a specialist audience. In October 1938 – in his first outing as Flann O’Brien – he intervened in a debate between Sean O’Faolain and Frank O’Connor on ‘Ideals for an Irish Theatre’, in the letters pages of the Irish Times. The spat was self-consciously intellectual, with O’Connor arguing for a return to ...

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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... the landscape of Kingston-upon-Hull has come to look like Grantchester, Adlestrop and far Araby 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 ...
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 ...
2 August 1984
... Osborne, Jack Yeats, my famous namesake his brother Bill, Padraic Colum, John Millington Synge, young painters like Paddy Tuohy who really did paint old J.S. Joyce and died of his own hand, poor Sean O’Sullivan who died of liquor and love and loneliness, English and Irish politicians like Augustine Birrell, Stephen Gwynn, Arthur Griffith, social stars, Lord and Lady Glenavy, Count Cassy ...


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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... acknowledge that there are various Irish communities which are better understood in their interrelationships 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 ...


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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... you can’t write,’ he informs her, reminding her ‘of how Anthony Burgess had slated me, had said that after Joyce and Yeats and Co, after the giants, came “the little people”, such as me’. Sean Kenny, the silent theatre designer, another compatriot, might have challenged him, but was now gone, having foreseen his death. Fame came to a head in New York, where practically everyone discussed ...

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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... on his father, an enthusiastic grower of red roses, was to sow radishes among them. The first poem in 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 ...

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