Submit to Southword





New Irish Voices
Poetry chapbooks by
Roisin Kelly & Paul McMahon



Liberty Walks Naked
by Maram al-Masri, trans. Theo Dorgan



Chapbooks by Fool for Poetry
Competition Winners 2018

Not in Heaven by Molly Minturn
Bog Arabic by Bernadette McCarthy




Richesses: Francophone Songwriter Poets
Edited and translated by Aidan Hayes





Munster Literature Centre

Create your badge






Arts Council



Cork City Council



Foras na Gaeilge



Cork County Council





Jennifer Matthews reviews Leanne O'Sullivan's newest poetry collection



Jennifer Matthews on Matthew Geden's 'The Place Inside'

Jennifer Matthews writes poetry and book reviews, and is editor of the Long Story Short literary journal. Her poetry has been published in The Stinging Fly, Mslexia, Revival, Necessary Fiction, Poetry Salzburg, Foma & Fontanelles and Cork Literary Review, and anthologised in Dedalus's collection of immigrant poetry in Ireland, Landing Places (2010). In 2012 she read at Electric Picnic with Poetry Ireland, and had a poem shortlisted by Gwyneth Lewis in the Bridport poetry competition. She is currently working on a collaboration with poet Anamaría Crowe Serrano.

Photo © Dave Griffin




The Mining Road

The Mining Road

Leanne O'Sullivan

(Bloodaxe Books, 2013)

ISBN: 1 85224 968 4

£8.95 paperback

Buy from Bloodaxe





Much has been made of Leanne O’Sullivan’s youth in book reviewsthankfully this is waning with the advent of her third collection from Bloodaxe, as she has well earned her place by now. After all, those who read widely often suspect that accomplished poets are “born that way”, whether the public becomes aware of them at 21 years old, or 71 years old. Although talent is probably genetic (shall we just admit it?), the craft of poetry comes from very hard work. It’s interesting to compare O’Sullivan’s craft to that of her contemporaries. Many poets in their 20s and 30s in Ireland are diving into an aesthetic which is (wonderfully) chaotic and anarchic, fuelled by vim and protest. Some are pushing the form’s boundaries to see what beauty lies beyond “old-school” narrative. For others, “voice” dominates and the page becomes a hymn sheet to carry sound-driven work. Despite this, Leanne O’Sullivan’s stylistic choices have developed towards more traditional forms—in her verse are echoes of “classical training”, her mastery of rhythm and meter careful, unobtrusive. Nearly every poem is divided into tidy stanzas of set numbers of lines, with lines themselves roughly even in length. (Few occurrences  of fragmented, jagged breaks, or lines-lengths determined by breath alone.)  Although in my personal reading life I tend to feel more sparks from the anarchic side of poetry, there is something unique about O’Sullivan’s work that keeps me coming back, collection after collection.

            Having won recognitions such as the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry, previously awarded to high-calibre poets such as Eavan Boland and Michael Coady, her collections sit very comfortably alongside “canonical” writers. Her champions include the likes of Michael Longley, Paula Meehan and Billy Collins. The feminist in me is happy that a young woman with a confident voice has, over the last decade, entered into the “conversation” of canonical poetry on topics as crucial and divergent as mythology, aging, eating disorders, family history, death, and spirituality’s place in contemporary life.  

            The Mining Road, particularly as a companion to Cailleach: The Hag of Beara, positions O’Sullivan as an essential West Cork poet, chronicling not only the physical “body” of the place, but its emotional and spiritual being. The mine is, of course, both literal and metaphorical—the poet explores the legacy of a local copper mine as a symbol  of the depth within local, private lives. ‘The Mining Road’, ‘Storehouse’, ‘Man Engine’ and ‘A Healing’ are highlights of the collection for their pursuit of this imagery. ‘Man Engine’, with its fascinating collection of mining lingo  goes to a very Jungian, primal place:


Listen the glut,

the first scree

howling down

the shaft.



the mouths

that lie foul

in the water.


These brief lines, not typical of O’Sullivan’s work, are like chips flaked by a pick-axe, each one a bite of rugged investigation. There are a handful of poems in The Mining Road (‘Townland’, ‘Valentine’, ‘Cuckoo-spirit’, ‘Neighbour’) which stand out from her more narrative pieces in their rich use of language. The first piece in the collection, ‘Townland’, begins:


A hankering in the skull, uttered and worked, 

the stagger of heather beds cleaved in the throat;

Gorth and Ahabrock, and old stone walls

the swallows going like windborne rumours.


The joy in reading poetry, for me, comes from lines like these, from the power of their pulpy concentration. ‘Townland’ follows the narrator and her father walking through countryside, past a “roofless village”, listening for  “the ghost of Norah Seer”. This gives readers the GPS coordinates to start from, orienting us to the simultaneously very realistic, and also “otherworldly” landscape found in The Mining Road. This collection isn’t exactly dealing with liminality, or thresholds. Rather, it argues that there is a multi-dimensionality of place: where ancestors and the recently deceased cohabitate with the living, where history and the present day are in constant interaction, as are dream lives and waking lives.

            ‘Antique Cabinets’ achieves this “multi-dimensionality” with perfect pitch. The narrator describes searching for antiques with her husband as “the long sweated haul, as if we had coaxed / and pulled a sleep-walked body back home… ”. Whereas for her partner, “the shine off it was like looking/ down through water, down past old wood, / a poplar sky or walnut’s burred flower.” The congenial conflict between the couple comes down to a very real philosophical question: “And what would I make of such an inheritance? / When you are gone and I am left wondering/ what should keep of love and trees and shadows… ” Can we chose our inheritance? Or our legacy? Is it something that lingers in “the home-place”, because it too has a right to the space?

            “The home-place” and family life is central to The Mining Road, discussing the storms and sunny days between sisters in ‘Irish Weather’; the magic of home-building in ‘House Lore’; preparing the house for God and neighbours in ‘The Station Mass’;  or the recounting of memorable moments of family history in ‘Love Stories’ or ‘Lightening’. While all family-story poems walk the dangerous line of “Is it artistic photography, or simply the family photo album?”, more often than not O’Sullivan’s writing includes the reader in the experience of the event being described, and adds weight and depth to the study of character. In her personal tales, family members and events sometimes take on the gravitas of mythology, launching the reader into a space which is at once mystical and familiar. Take ‘Oracle’: the narrator dozing on a sofa (perhaps her grandmother’s), “the wind outside all haul and undertow, / and everything around us rising”. The dramatic surroundings are subverted by the delicate incantations of her grandmother “reading to herself aloud …. low and silted, ruminant mouthings”, which wake the narrator “like a sudden call heard far underground”. While ‘Oracle’ is rich in lyricism, ‘Love Stories’ has strength in its charming narrative. This is the kind of story you tell friends and grandchildren with relish, both for its humour, and for its utter honesty. We hear the narrator’s grandmother cleaning, “cups and plates smashed into the deep sink / like a sudden downpour of hailstones…”, followed by her grandfather  “once peering over the rim of the page … calmly offered, ‘Would you prefer a hammer?’”  That this poem is called ‘Love Stories’ brings in the reality of love—when it is the opposite of romance, the act of two opposing forces existing together in one space, harmoniously or otherwise.

            The Mining Road makes a fine progression from Leanne O’Sullivan’s early work. Those who enjoyed Waiting for My Clothes and Cailleach: The Hag of Beara will find more to love in her latest offering. Being poetry of mining, oracles, and family history, this collection is very much Persephone’s return--emerging from the dark with stories to tell about depths she has witnessed. The surprise for the reader is that “Persephone’s” voice is charming, never cynical and full of what Michael Longley refers to as O’Sullivan’s “unembarrased imagination”.


©2013 Jennifer Matthews


Author Links


Poems by Jennifer Matthews at Poetry International Web

Poem by Matthews in Wordlegs

Long Story Short literary journal






©2009 Southword Editions
Munster Literature Centre

Southword 6 Southword No 7 Southword No 8 Southword No 9 Southword No 10 Southword 11 southword 12 Southword No 14 Southword No 15