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Doireann Ní Ghríofa reviews Mary O'Gorman's newest poetry collection







doireann ni ghriofa

Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s poems have appeared in literary journals in Ireland and internationally in France, Australia, Mexico, USA, Scotland, and England. Her Irish language collections Résheoid and Dúlasair are both published by Coiscéim. The Arts Council of Ireland has twice awarded her literature bursaries (2011 and 2013). In 2012, she was a winner of the Wigtown Poetry Competition, Scotland. Her short collection of poems in English, Ouroboros, was longlisted for The Venture Award (UK). Earlier this year, she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize (USA).






flames of light

Flames of Light

Mary O'Gorman

(Doghouse, 2013)

ISBN: 978-0-9572073-8-7

€12 paperback

Buy from Doghouse





Mary O’ Gorman’s new collection Flames of Light draws the reader in immediately from the contents page, with titles such as ‘The Colour of Coffins’ and ‘Thwarted by Beyoncé’. This is a collection that treads familiar ground (family, place, local history) and yet this poet seems to “make it new” with a spare, lyrical freshness that renews itself poem after poem.

In the haunting triptych ‘Three Poems for my Sister’,the speaker addresses a sister who has been struck by Alzheimer’s. The language is spare, evocative, restrained, and very moving:

Still Life

In the Alzheimiers Unit,

Judy paints flowers, petals opening,

daubs of red, blurred blue, uneven green.

O’Gorman’s poetic gaze is broad and her ear for language is sharp. Here, she deftly reveals all the richness of modern Hiberno-English— whether the careful commiseration of “Sorry about Herself”(‘We Stared at Stars’) or the banter of teenagers in an art gallery admiring Vermeer’s milkmaid: “The maid’s hot too, lads”, “That is so deadly”(‘Art Gallery’).

Although there are moments of humour here, O’Gorman is not a poet who shies from darkness. She treats serious subjects with a lightness of touch and tone, as in One Mother to Another, where small talk assumes a much more serious undercurrent, as the reader comes to realise that the baby being doted on is a young Harold Shipman. The playful rhymes and conversational tone add to the lightness which skilfully underpins the dark future that lies ahead for this particular “bonny” baby.

Mary O’Gorman is undoubtedly a poet in love with place. Poems in these collection transport the reader to Morocco, Zimbabwe, Naples. However, an awareness of dinnseanchas also echoes through this collection. The naming of local places (Clochmachada, Killorglin, Donaghmore, Slievenamon) brings an almost incantatory tone to parts of O’Gorman’s work that evokes a place with an immediacy that could otherwise be difficult to convey.

Anne Sexton advised "Tell almost the whole story." O’Gorman’s skill lies in her restraint, a strength of her writing that comes to the fore in poem after poem. A sense of nostalgia pervades much of this collection. In the poem ‘She Remains’, the reader joins the speaker in discovery:

In a box retrieved from the attic

I find darning thread, a brooch,

her mass gloves.


I slip them on –

smooth, cold, hard,

they still grip.


This poem is all the more powerful for what is omitted. The poet restrains herself from spelling out how the speaker/reader should feel, thus leaving space for readers to draw their own conclusions.

Twelve years have passed since O’ Gorman’s first collection Barking at Blackbirds was published. Let us hope that we will not have to wait so long for her next work.




©2013 Doireann Ní Ghríofa



Author Links


Doireann Ní Ghríofa homepage

Poems by Doireann Ní Ghríofa at Poethead, A Poetry Blog

'Elegy for a City Tree': a poem in Burning Bush 2






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