O’Brien is a prize-winning poet whose presence on the Irish literary landscape establishes her as a narrator of poetic stories that often demonstrate unusual twists in the ordinary run of experience. Her focus is both Irish and also occupies an ‘elsewhere’ often defined by her sense of the heroism of women. Her women may be famous, infamous, known, mythological or imagined, but they move forwards, through obstacles, and sometimes triumph. Her powerful ‘Sheela-na-Gig of Aghagower’ is perched in place/knowing the world through the spread of my lips, a poem which powerfully presents an image of the female imbued with joy and happiness once social diktats are kept at a remove. She is an intellectually inquisitive geographer of the senses, whose field work takes place through poetry. Many poems handle the existential with deftness and acuity, as O’Brien’s interrogation of the experience of ill-health in ‘Cardioversion’ leads the reader into an unsentimental arena enriched with mythic urgency. She offers wise messages to her readers but also to those close to her: to daughter, husband, and to the dead. Through her fertile poetic this poet wrests the elements of being alive and retrieves a brightness and joy, like the bees in her poem ‘Looking for Flowers’, who see the world with compound eyes.
Available at: https://www.salmonpoetry.com/details.php?ID=23&a=23
Jean O’Brien’s collection, her New & Selected Fish on a Bicycle (Salmon 2016 reprint 2018) was her fifth, a new collection is due in 2021. She has received many awards, including the prestigious Arvon International Award, The Fish International, and has been highly commended in the Forward Prize and placed in others. She was awarded a Patrick & Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship. Her work appears in many magazines, anthologies and regularly on radio. She has taken part in public art in the Epic Museum and Poetry on the Dart transport (2019). She holds a Masters in creative writing, Trinity College, Dublin. www.jeanobrien.ie
Dr Mary O’Donnell was raised in Monaghan and lives in Kildare. She attended Maynooth University to study German and Philosophy, and from 1982 onwards began to publish both poetry and prose. Thirty years ago her first poetry collection, Reading the Sunflowers in September appeared from Salmon. Since then she has published six more poetry collections, four novels, including The Elysium Testament and The Light Makers, and three collections of short stories. Her eighth poetry collection, Massacre of the Birds, will be published in October this year.
She writes essays and cultural commentary and contributes to both academic journals and popular reading matter. An essay, “My Mother in Drumlin Country”, published in New Hibernia Review during 2017, was listed among the Notable Essays and Literary Nonfiction of 2017 in Best American Essays (Mariner). Adjudication panels she has served on include the Strokestown International Poetry Festival, the Irish Times Poetry Award, and the New Irish Writing Award, as well as on the Board of the Irish Writers Centre. Currently a member of the Toscaireacht with Aosdana, (to which she was elected in 2001), she holds a PhD in Creative Writing from UCC and teaches writing and literature in Ireland and internationally.
A collection of essays on O’Donnell’s work appeared during 2018: Giving Shape to the Moment: the Art of Mary O’Donnell, Poet, Novelist, Short-story Writer (Peter Lang), ed Prof Elena Jaime de Pabos, with contributions from Irish and Spanish academics and writers.
© Jean O’Brien/Mary O’Donnell