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Heather Island / Joan McBreen

Heather Island

By: Joan McBreen

€12.00 €6.00
Through their simple, plain-spoken respect for the ordinary forces of the landscape she loves - for its fauna and flora, its 'season of stillness' or its 'disconsolate cry of the lost' - the poems in Joan McBreen's quietly lyrical fourth collection compose a settlement for the heart, even a site for soul-pondering. In brief elegies and celebrations her poems address losses, local phenomena, familial transitions, fashioning l...
ISBN 978-1-907056-01-7
Pub Date Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Cover Image Stuart Stils
Page Count 56
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Through their simple, plain-spoken respect for the ordinary forces of the landscape she loves - for its fauna and flora, its 'season of stillness' or its 'disconsolate cry of the lost' - the poems in Joan McBreen's quietly lyrical fourth collection compose a settlement for the heart, even a site for soul-pondering. In brief elegies and celebrations her poems address losses, local phenomena, familial transitions, fashioning language-moments of subdued rapture (bird wings 'the colour of opals') or sharply accented nostalgia (living away from Ireland, she writes that 'one seashell to hold close/ to my ear would do,/ and rain on my face'). 'I sing my own song,' she says in one poem, and in the best of these poems her notes ring sweet and clear, so even winter clouds can 'break, letting in such light.'

Eamon Grennan

Joan McBreen

Joan McBreen is from Sligo. She divides her time between Tuam and Renvyle, County Galway. Her poetry collections are: The Wind Beyond the Wall (Story Line Press, 1990), A Walled Garden in Moylough (Story Line Press and Salmon Poetry, 1995), Winter in the Eye – New and Selected Poems (Salmon Poetry, 2003) and Heather Island (Salmon Poetry, 2009; reprinted 2013 & 2016). She was awarded an MA from University College, Dublin in 1997. Her anthology The White Page / An Bhileog Bhán – Twentieth-Century Irish Women Poets was published by Salmon in 1999 and is in its third reprint. She also edited and compiled the anthology The Watchful Heart – A New Generation of Irish Poets – Poems and Essays (Salmon, 2009).
Her poetry is published widely in Ireland and abroad and has been broadcast, anthologised and translated into many languages. Her CD The Long Light on the Land – Selected Poems, read to a background of traditional Irish airs and classical music, was produced by Ernest Lyons Productions, Castlebar, County Mayo in 2004. Her most recent CD is The Mountain Ash in Connemara – Selected Poems by Joan McBreen, read by the poet to new arrangements of Irish airs and original music by composer Glen Austin, performed by the RTÉ Contempo Quartet. 2015 saw the publication of a limited edition broadside, The Mountain Ash, with an original etching by the artist Margaret Irwin West alongside Joan McBreen’s poem, ‘The Mountain Ash’. Set in letterpress and hand-printed by Mary Plunkett of the Belgrave Private Press, Dublin. Published by Artisan House, Connemara. 150 copies signed by artist and poet, numbered and dated.
She has given readings and talks in many universities in the USA including Emory, Villanova, de Paul (Chicago), Cleveland, Lenoir Rhyne, N.C. and the University of Missouri - St. Louis. In 2010 she undertook a six week reading tour of Nebraska, Iowa and Alabama and in 2012 she read at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN and at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Her most recent US reading was at the 2017 American Conference of Irish Studies (ACIS South), University of Kentucky, Lexington.
Joan McBreen has been involved for many years with Irish literary festivals such as the Yeats International Summer School, Clifden Arts Week, Listowel Writers’ Week and the Cúirt International Festival of Literature, Galway. She is also a member of the Board of Poetry Ireland.


Montbretia on the High Road, Renvyle

Between hedge and house
montbretia flares.
Slow rain falls. September,
season of stillness,

of hoar-frost
and early dusk. From here
at the edge of the world
summer's birds take off

from rowans laden
with fruit. When you left
absence and distance
became companions, familiar

as the curves on the road
and Tully mountain
in the kind of light
only this landscape knows.

I will begin again
as montbretia bulbs
send out white roots
in water, on a window-sill.
Review by Fiona Sampson, The Irish Times, Saturday June 27th 2009

Joan McBreen's Heather Island is, as its title suggests, similarly conscious of the context that life in a landscape supplies. McBreen is a poetry activist on that non-metropolitan model which is one of the Irish scene's profound strengths. Not only does it allow the lived detail of country life to be taken seriously on the page, but it nurtures diversity of diction. The condensation in McBreen's Hawthorn on the High Road differs profoundly from Wyley's equal economy:

The bay trees I placed
either side of my blue door
are shrivelled by a salt wind

McBreen frequently implies a narrative, for example by her choice of the second person, ballad diction (Daughter in July Downpour ), or title ( In Memory of Louis MacNeice ). This slim, focused volume is also inflected by haiku, including the sets Five Poems in Spring and the Omey stanzas, which proceed by the haiku logic of stasis and juxtaposition.

Other Titles from Joan McBreen

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