Jean O'Brien

 WINNER of the 2010 ARVON POETRY AWARD
 Watch Jean reading 'Before'

 

FISH ON A BICYCLE

New and Selected Poems

by Jean O'Brien

 

available from the Salmon website:

 

www.salmonpoetry.com

 

good bookshops and Amazon

Poems

 

 

Out Of His Element

 

If he could fly he would go now

 

to his spawning pool, instead he

 

lies drowning in air,

 

his glistering

 

iridescent scales dulling down.

 

His eyes grow cold and flat

 

clouding over, the leap and struggle

 

ended. One leap too far and he landed

 

on earth stranded on grass

 

the blue of sky fixed in him,

 

he dreams of flashing through clear water,

 

casting his sheen and shadow

 

onto stones on the river bed.

 

His gills heaving now as he draws air

 

his lungs gulping for water.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Diary

 

After, when we had all stopped wanting to be

 

Anne Frank, when we had spent nights writing

 

our diaries and were bored with our life stories,

 

Amy Johnson was our big thrill. We could

 

picture her still, up there, flying high.

 

You had to die to be a heroine.

 

 

 

Then we all got interested in boys

 

put away our toys of childhood, pouted

 

our lips, widened our eyes. Our friends’ spotty

 

older brother, whom last year we thought of

 

as clumsy and a bother, now became

 

an object of desire. We licked our lips

 

on lead pencils and wrote Dear Diary

 

as if our engines were on fire.

 

 

 

 

 

Vitreous China

 

I locked my young self in the bathroom

 

not meaning to, but the lock was rusty

 

and when the snip went over,

 

that was that, it could not be pulled back.

 

No-one had missed me, so I rummaged

 

in the cabinet and found what I was after,

 

my father's razor. Too small to reach

 

the mirror, I copied him by touch,

 

drawing the blade backwards and forwards

 

across my face, tapping the lethal steel

 

on the side of the basin that I always

 

thought said Virtuous China, and made

 

it sing like I had seen him do.

 

Then a strong stinging sensation

 

on my skin, it hurt and I wailed.

 

Mother came running and tried to get in,

 

but the door held, Eventually

 

father shouldered it, the lock gave

 

and they came crashing through.

 

I can still hear her roar as she saw

 

my face crisscrossed and dripping

 

with blood. Only then did I remember

 

that girls don't shave.

 

 

 

 

 

The Stolen Sheela ni Gig of Aghangower Speaks

 

Set high above the doorway, under the flying buttress,

 

pockmarked now with age and lately turned to stone,

 

I sat. Know me I whisper, I am woman, I am crone.

 

With my etched lashless eyes, hairless head,

 

grinning mouth and triangular nose how could I

 

tempt anyone?

 

The wind and rain are always at me, lashing me,

 

leaving me lonely. Someone saw me and desired me,

 

swayed by my crude posturing, my endless fertility.

 

When I open my thighs the world flows in

 

and the world flows out. I have spent all my life

 

so far exposed above Aghagower perched in my place

 

knowing the world through the spread of my lips.

 

In the unconditional dark someone dethroned me,

 

un-croned me, made me young and beautiful again.

 

I shrieked leave me be, I was happy.

 

 

 

Winner, 2008 Fish International Poetry Prize

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hare

 

Wakeful in early morning, night edging

 

out of the fields in the half-light the hare sits.

 

 

 

Only the twitch of his silky ears lets us know

 

he is here, alert, ready to kick off

 

 

 

and jinking run, unlike that crouching hare

 

caught and framed. This hare

 

 

 

is creating an illusion of motion

 

separating the thought from the deed.

 

 

 

a deception of making and remaking

 

himself at acrobatic speed, a dust-devil twisting

 

 

 

that way and this - a will-o'-wisp bowling along.

 

Light is brailling the landscape hooking him

 

 

 

in place, as he apes the grey dawn. He waits

 

for the fields to colour up and the empty air

 

 

 

to resume its constant hum. A living language

 

running on the land waiting for sunrise

 

 

 

to make its move. Waiting for its shadow

 

to rise up and break for the horizon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collections

 

The Shadow Keeper (1997)

Salmon

 

 

Dangerous Dresses (2005)

Bradshaw

 

 

Lovely Legs (2009)

Salmon

 

 

Merman (2012)

Salmon

 

 

Fish On A Bicycle (2016)

Salmon

 

 

and two chapbooks:

 

Working the Flow (1992)

(Lapwing, Belfast)

 

REACH (2004)

(Lapwing)

 

 

Anthologies

Anthologies I am delighted to have been included in within the past few years.

 

Favourites

 

Books I believe everyone should read:

 

 

 

Ruth Padel - The Poem and The Journey

Chatto & Windus UK.

 

 

 

Mark Strand and Eavan Boland - The Making of a Poem

Norton USA.

 

 

 

Neil Astley - Poetry With An Edge

Bloodaxe UK.

 

 

 

Billy Collins - Turning Back to Poetry

Random House USA.

 

 

 

Fleur Adcock - 20th Century Women's Poetry

Faber UK.

 

 

 

Sean O'Brien - The Firebox

Picador UK.

 

 

Other books I have enjoyed:

 

 

 

 

Jeffrey Meyers - Robert Frost - A Biography

Mariner Books ,USA.

 

 

 

Jeffrey Meyers - Manic Power - Robert Lowell & his circle

MacMillan.

 

 

 

Tim Kendall - Paul Muldoon

Seren, UK.

 

 

 

Clair Wills - Reading Paul Muldoon

Bloodaxe, UK.

 

 

 

Sean O'Brien - The Deregulated Muse

Bloodaxe, UK.

 

 

 

Eds. W.N. Herbert & Matthew Hollis - Strong Words, Modern Poets on Modern Poetry

Bloodaxe, UK.

 

 

 

Micxhael J. Bugeja - The Art and Craft of Poetry

Writer's Digest Books.

 

 

 

Philip Davies Roberts - How Poetry Works

Pelican, UK.

 

 

 

The Fading Smile - Poets in Boston from Robert Lowell to Sylvia Plath

Norton, USA.

 

 

 

Ed. Francis Bixler - Original Essays on the Poetry of Anne Sexton

UCA Press, USA.

 

 

I could go on...!

 

 

 

 

 

Links

 

Poetry Ireland Review

 

 

Salmon Poetry

 

 

Irish Writers Centre

 

 

The Poetry Archive

 

 

Ask About Writing

 

 

Poetry Society

 

 

Dixie Friend Gay (Artist)

 

 

The Arvon Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Videos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact Me

Jean is available for readings and festivals and as a Creative Writing tutor, for which she has many years experience both in Ireland and abroad.  She has tutored in the Irish Writers' Centre, for Dublin City Council and many other County Councils, the Prison Service and as part of the Writers' in Schools Scheme. Her classes can be poetry only or general creative writing, including Memoir and the Short Story.

 

She was the Writer in Residence for Co. Laois and holds an M.Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin.

 

Email: jeanvobrien@gmail.com