Illuminate by Kerrie O’Brien – A Review and Giveaway for World Poetry Day

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.

Fire, heart


Spilling out

So close and strange

People weep

Sacred –

What we do to each other

And give

Without knowing.

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 –

Because really

On warm evenings

He is at home

Near Cooldrinagh

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

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.

Good luck!


Ireland Month Irish Literature

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

28 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Favourite poems change for me depending upon the mood, but if pushed I’d have to say I return to Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” quite a lot!!!

    Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou springs to mind. I’m so glad that poetry is still alive and I see a lot of beautiful pieces on here. Nice post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What beautiful writing! The poem about Beckett is just wonderful.

    My favourite poem is In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound – at the other extreme I also love the epic Omeros by Derek Walcott 🙂

    My favourite Irish poets are Heaney (honest! not just saying that 😉 ) and Paul Muldoon. I’ve just realised I’ve listed 4 men – I need to get some gender balance in my reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like whimsical and playful. So, I’m going to go with three old favourites from A.A. Milne – Halfway Down, Happiness, and Sneezles. My mother did a good job of making sure his would always be the first to pop into my head. 🙂
    The cover of Illuminate is beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m more a fan of traditional poetry though I am trying to expose my mind to it a bit more. The excerpts you have in this post are lovely. One of my favourites is by W.B. Yeats, When You Are Old.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t know that I have one favourite poem, though Yeats’ “The Second Coming” is one I read in high school that has stuck with me every since, and Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” is one I read recently that has meant a lot to me, so much so that I should really memorize it.

    As for favourite poets, I’d say Mark Doty and Ruth Padel.

    No matter how much poetry I read, I always feel like there’s so much out there that I have yet to discover.

    I’d love to win a copy of Illuminate.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful quotes from Illuminate…..would love to get my hands on a copy! My all time favourite poem would have to be Eavan Boland’s “The Famine Road”- to me, it really is stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. She deserves all the praise she’s getting, not just for this, but also of course for the collection Looking at the Stars that she edited with Alice Kinsella (all proceeds to the Simon Community in Dublin)

    Iluminate is a stunning collection and one that I found by accident. I was walking by Books Upstairs last year and saw there was a crowd inside. I popped in just in time to hear Kerrie reading – it was the official launch of the book. I recently had the privilege of sharing the bill with her at a STACCATO reading in Dublin.

    Kerrie is shortlisted for this year’s Hennessy Awards (winners announced next Monday)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, and I’m not entering, of course, as I assume that employees of the Begorrathon are prohibited, and in any event it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite poem, as I like so many and the list of favourites is always changing: I am as capricious as a butterfly flitting from flower to flower. One poem that I am currently enjoying is ‘Hamnavoe’ by George Mackay Brown, which I discovered a while back through a marvellous TV series called ‘A Poet’s Guide to Britain’:

    Liked by 1 person

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