Kerrie O’Brien is being hailed as a key new voice in Irish Poetry. Her collection Illuminate is earning rave reviews from writers such as Sebastian Barry (who compared her to Keats) and Joseph O’Connor and it is easy to see why.
Imagine the sun pouring in through a stained glass window – Illuminate captures that warmth, vibrancy and sense of transcendance, all the while being accessible and moving. It is a stunning collection and deserves to be widely read.
O’Brien has a background in visual art and it shows. This collection, which explores ideas of love, beauty and belief is steeped in colours and in light. Rose-golds, reds and yellows create a mosaic of colours. Poems and words glimmer like jewels, each perfectly capturing a feeling or a moment. The imagery is of fire, sunlight, blossoming. Speaking to the Irish Times earlier this year, Kerrie said
I had the title in mind before the majority of it was written. I wanted to visualise a collection that was filled with light, like a rose unfolding
The collection is steeped in the visual, with poems dedicated to Rothko, Diane Arbus, Matisse and Turner. Through these, she exlores the role of the artist and the role that art plays in our lives.
So close and strange
What we do to each other
Like art, her work is precise and controlled and yet within that structure it is brimming with emotion. There is a lightness that belies the deep feelings being unearthed, the personal moments shared. There is also a sense of pilgrimage as the poet spends time in Paris, trying finding herself and her way in life. She visits the famous Shakespeare & Co bookshop and looks to Hemmingway for advice.
In one poem, Beckett, she goes to visit that great writers grave;
But get no sense of him –
On warm evenings
He is at home
Still roaming the hills
With his father.
It is this ability to take big ideas, grand works of art and bring them back to the realm of the personal that make this collection such as success. These poems are at heart, about love. Love of art, love for family, love for a partner, and ultimately, love of the self.
I want to thank the well-loved
Bark of my body
For all it has done.
I wantmy spirit to go out
Like a laughing child
Running through the fields
And all along the white
Sands of the sea
Ready for anything.
While reading these poems, I was reminded of a line of Heaney’s from Postscript;
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open
That is what Kerrie O’Brien does in these beautifully crafted, deceptively slight works. She illuminates human existence, which is what great poetry should do.
We are all red inside
Brimming with love
All fluid and quiet and fire
Illuminate is published by Salmon Poetry and you can find out more information about Kerrie and her work here. Kerrie has also edited Looking At The Stars, a limited edition anthology of Irish writing aiming to raise €15,000 for the homeless through the Dublin Simon Community. Find out more at www.lookingatthestars.ie
To celebrate World Poetry Day, I have a copy of Illuminate to give away, along with a little goody bag of items from Seamus Heaney HomePlace, including a notebook, pen and bookmark.
To enter, simply comment below and tell me your favourite poem, Irish or otherwise and I will draw a winner by Random Picker on Saturday. I will also ship worldwide.