Today the books in my hand are The Flower and the Frozen Sea and This One High Field, both the work of Michelle O’Sullivan.
If you stand outside on Mannin Bay in one of our spectacular dawns or sunsets, when the edges of two worlds seem to meet, there is a strong impulse to express this beauty in some way. Yet a different viewpoint is given by Dorothy Cross, in most interesting interview on The Works with John Kelly on RTE. In talking about her work process, she explains that she has no desire to paint landscape finding in it a balm rather than an inspiration. I can understand her rationale that nature wins. Nevertheless, I am glad Michelle, who also lives in the West of Ireland, chose poetry as a medium to make us see where we might not notice, to bring us the balm her world can offer.
In Michelle’s poetry, there is a total immersion in landscape as if one is alone with no human contact to disturb. I read that more and more scientists are discovering the connection between all things. Man has ancestors in common with butterflies and trees. There is a constant exchange of the information embodied in every living thing. All of nature is our home. This poet is at one with the world she is within. By often using verbs associated with the human body, she makes this inter-connection real to us.
From The Flower and the Frozen Sea:
Sunflowers crumble the laneway (p.14)
The river is stilled, careful to cast no shadow (p.14)
There was wind too …
like a mouth breathing down a bottle’s neck (p.27)
A small face with hands folded over it,
the moon … (p.33)
She can also make us suddenly aware of our humanity with lines like:
… And the fires needed to be lit.
The heart of the house had to be wound, set ticking. (p.50}
Our elusive light, so difficult for artists as it changes constantly, is captured in lines such as:
the way wind and lightfall
come together and spill apart (p.14)
the sun in threads can’t reach these stone-
dense hills. (p.21)
amber shimmers from out-of-reach places (p.22)
In her third collection, This One High Field, this poet again brings us intense moments of a particular minute in her landscape. She also meditates more about uncertainties, about grief:
The shadow that made a question of your mouth.
The music heard from other rooms. (p.19)
Her voice… edging pain –
Thinned black words unable to bend
their weight. (p.21)
Each of us a curve at the curve of a world (p.22)
And this grist of light sharpening light,
the breadth of a grindstone. (p.25)
I’d like to finish with a quotation from Seven Brief Lesson in Physics by Carlo Rovelli which surely catches the task that faces anyone attempting to interpret our world:
Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking.
Michelle is brave enough to try but in a reticent and delicate way as if. to use her own term, she is shy-startled.