Tag Archives: Sinead Morrissey

Review of Parallax by Sinead Morrissey

21 Feb

sinead-morrissey-parallaxAs part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk.

Parallax (Winner of the 2014 TS Eliot Poetry Prize)

Sinéad Morrissey
(Carcanet, 2013); pbk, £9.95

Parallax is an astronomical term for the apparent displacement of an object caused by a change in the point of observation. In this wide-ranging collection of the same name, short-listed for the 2013 Forward Prize, Morrissey considers from different angles how our position affects what and how we see.

In several poems, Morrissey’s lens is taken from the visual arts. She writes about film, photography, Scandinavian television crime dramas, paintings, even a jigsaw. In “Photographs of Belfast by Alexander Robert Hogg”, she writes

he can barely pass an entry
without assessing
the effect the diagonal

of a porterhouse roof
beside a streetlight
might produce

Her interest, like that of the photographer, coalesces around the power and capacity of art to come at things “slant”, to “fix” moments in time, and in so doing, to impose a particular perspective. In “Fur”, a poem about Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors” in which he shows the skull at a strange, skewed angle, Morissey writes,

Too obvious a touch

to set the white skull straight. Better
to paint it as something other: driftwood
up-ended by magic from the right-hand side

Perspective has the power to change the perceived nature of material objects and, by extension, to change perceptions of “truth”, ”memory” and “history”.

Nothing about this collection is too obvious. It is both intriguing and surprising in its range, from childbirth to a communist party bric-a-brac sale in Belfast, from the journal of Dorothy Wordsworth to “The Mutoscope” of the Victorian peep-show. In this poem, the rhythm and rhymes evoke the gathering speed of the mutoscope as it brings the static images to life using movement and light:

Only for you do the two mute girls on stage
who falter at first, erratic as static

in the synaptic gap between each image,
imperceptibly jolt to life-
grinning, tap-dancing, morphing into footage,

their arms like immaculate pistons, their legs like knives…
It lasts a minute, their having-been-written onto light.

Imagery, lyricism and energy are never sacrificed by Morrisey for the sake of concept. Technically, this is a most assured collection. Several poems are written in couplets or tercets, and there are sonnets and shape poems, including, “Through the Eye of a Needle” and “Fool’s Gold”, both delicately taut and controlled, for Morrisey’s control has a deftness and lightness of touch about it. In “A Day’s Blindness”, for example, she writes:

He stood up to carry his plate and cup
to the sink and couldn’t see.
He sat back down. The clocks
went on consuming Saturday.

He would have needed practice
at being blind to pretend to be sighted.

Morrisey writes about birth, death, illusion and reality, from the apparently straightforward “truths” of a child’s perspective to the deliberate distortion and manipulation of Soviet Russia, where people were “disappeared” from photographs. A strong thread running through the collection is the artifice of art and, by implication, of humanity, in trying to “fix” a moment or capture a particular “truth”. Deception, whether deliberate or unwitting, is often an element of perception.

Even in the touching sequence of poems about her young daughter, the child in her enthusiastic, energetic garrulousness, is perceived by the worn-out parent as,

like a businessman
on the last train home
after one too many espressos,
selling you his dream.

The concept behind Parallax provides a fascinating underlying unity so that the whole collection becomes much more than the sum of its individual poems. It opens with journal writing and ends with blogging, and in between there are philosophy, politics, humour and pain. Appealing to both the intellect and the emotions, this is a collection I will return to again and again.

Lindsay Macgregor


Sinead Morrissey will be appearing at two events at StAnza 2015 on Sunday 8 March: http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=718


StAnza 2015 Programme Revealed

30 Nov


2 AK

StAnza 2014 launch, photograph http://www.alistairkerr.com

It’s 30th November so a very happy St Andrews Day from St Andrews, where the sky is blue and the sun is shining. And here at StAnza Central, there are smiles on all our faces – and no, it’s not because we’re still licking our lips after Thursday’s wonderful Blame Montezuma event – but because after the months of planning and preparation, the excitement and thrills we had to keep secret, and after putting together enough aggregated text for several collected volumes, the programme for StAnza 2015 is finally revealed.

Carolyn Forche, photograph by Sean Mattison

Carolyn Forche, photograph by Sean Mattison

For our eighteenth festival, StAnza comes of age with six glorious days of events in St Andrews from 3–8 March, including two all-day workshops leading up to the festival launch in splendid locations at Hill of Tarvit Mansion House and Kellie Castle. More than 60 poets are on the bill, plus musicians, visual artists, actors and other writers. You can find the programme and browse through it now at http://ow.ly/F5Muc – just click on the top line of any event listing to enter whole page of information. Or of course you can go via our website homepage at www.stanzapoetry.org

The festival will open with a performance of Bedazzled: A Welshman in New York, bringing a little bit of New York to St Andrews. For one night the Byre Theatre will be transformed into 1950’s New York as audience members are invited to enjoy a drink with the cast, in character as Dylan Thomas and friends, while being transported back in time to the heady, bohemian world of Greenwich Village in the 50s.

Simon Armitage, photograph by Paul Wolfgang

Simon Armitage, photograph by Paul Wolfgang

Among this year’s headliners are Simon Armitage and New Zealand’s first Poet Laureate Bill Manhire, Anne Stevenson, Paul Durcan and Sheenagh Pugh, along with several major poets on their first appearance at StAnza, Glyn Maxwell who will deliver the StAnza 2015 lecture, Sinéad Morrissey, currently Belfast’s Poet Laureate, Ian Duhig and American poets Alice Notley, Carolyn Forché and Ilya Kaminsky. Winners of the 2014 Forward Prize for best collection and Forward First Prize, Kei Miller and Liz Berry, respectively are also included in this year’s line up along with Helen Mort, recent winner of the Aldeburgh First Collection prize. They join poets from Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Sardinia and Mallorca and others from across Scotland and the UK. We’ve created an individual profile page for everyone on the bill, so to find out more about them, just go to the online participant index, click on a name and their page will open. There’s also a page for each festival venue.

Photograph by Christine Clark

Performance events include The Shipwrecked House and Sealegs; the visual art exhibitions and installations range from watercolours to 3D digital poetry; there will be music from the Viridian Quartet, performing Steve Reich’s Different Trains, from Kirsty Law, jazz singer Lorna Reid, and from the Black Cat Jook band, and as part of the 15 minute personal ViewMaster shows each designed for, and delivered to, just one person. This year’s events are in association with two leading poetry magazines, The Wolf and Poetry London, their editors presenting poets they recommend; and elsewhere we have Writing Motherhood, A Modern Don Juan, and Past & Present sessions on Alastair Reid, Russian poets and neo-Latin Scottish poets.

Photograph by David Vallis

Spoken word and performance poets on the bill include Hollie McNish, Erin Fornoff, Elvis McGonagall, stand-up comedy poet Owen O’Neill and last year’s StAnza slam winner, Agnes Török; and in an innovations for 2015, Robin Vaughan-Williams will lead an all-day collaborative improvisation performance workshop for up to five people, to conclude with a short spontaneous performance.

That is just one of a range of participation events – six workshops in total are offered this year – along with a Simon Armitage Masterclass. Saturday Live radio regular Elvis McGonagall will host the StAnza Slam for us, and as ever there will be umpteen opportunities for your own poetry, including at three open mic events.

>erasure  image - Sonja Benskin Mesher, text - George Szirtes.

Kevin Reid’s >erasure image – Sonja Benskin Mesher, text – George Szirtes.

Believe it or not, this isn’t everything. We will be adding further events and installations over the next month, and telling you more about our events for Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, so please keep checking for updates, but meantime enjoy the feast online here.

Tickets don’t go on sale until early January, so you have plenty of time to browse and work out what will be top of your wish list for March. The printed brochure will be available later in January. If you’re not on our postal mailing list already, brochures can be requested by emailing brochure@stanzapoetry.org or telephoning 01334 474610. And make sure you’re on our e-list so you get all the latest updates direct to your inbox. Sign up for this at list@stanzapoetry.org.

White Horses by Karen Cairns

White Horses by Karen Cairns

Screenshot 2014-10-31 07.12.03 (3)


Headliners Announced for StAnza 2015

2 Oct
Simon Armitage (photo Paul Wolfgang-Webster)

Simon Armitage (photo Paul Wolfgang-Webster)

Today is National Poetry Day, and poetry events are taking place the length and breadth of the country. Good luck to them all. As our contribution to mark the day, we are releasing details of some of the treats in store next March when StAnza 2015 will, almost unbelievably, be our 18th annual festival. And if StAnza is coming of age, then you can be sure we’ll do it in style.

Our website at http://www.stanzapoetry.org  has just been updated and now reveals some of the headline acts who are on our programme for 2015. In keeping with our reputation for being a truly international affair, next year’s programme will not disappoint, featuring poets from as far afield as New Zealand, America and France.

Sinead Morrissey (photo by Malachi O'Doherty)

Sinead Morrissey (photo by Malachi O’Doherty)

Among the big names from the literary world performing at StAnza 2015 are Simon Armitage and New Zealand’s first Poet Laureate, Bill Manhire, along with three poets making their first appearance at StAnza, American poet Alice Notley, Sinéad Morrissey , currently Belfast’s Poet Laureate, and Ian Duhig. A previous festival featured a film version of Ian’s famous book, The Lammas Hireling, but this will be his first visit to StAnza in person.

StAnza traditionally focuses on two themes which interweave with each other to give each annual festival its own unique flavour. This year’s themes are Unfinished Business and An Archipelago of Poetry. The first theme examines how the written word deals with the issue of unfinished business as well as looking at ways in which poetry itself is often a work in progress. The second theme embraces poetry which comes from islands, and things coastal or tidal, while also considering how poets and poetry festivals or organisations exist not only as individual islands, but rather as part of an extensive international Archipelago of Poetry.

Bill Manhire

Bill Manhire

We think it’s a strong line-up of literary talent to headline StAnza 2015 and look forward to revealing further details of next year’s programme over the coming months. Expect some surprises!


Celebrate the poetry of Seamus Heaney ‘On Home Ground’

18 Jul
StAnza 2010 In Conversation event

Seamus Heaney in conversation with the late Dennis O’Driscoll at StAnza 2010

Like Scotland, Ireland is famous for its literary festivals, usually centred on areas associated with writers. This one is really rather special: a celebration of poetry and place in the territory of one of the world’s most prominent poets: Seamus Heaney.

‘On Home Ground’ is a new festival, taking place over a long weekend in Magherafelt,  in the South Derry of Heaney’s poetry. The Festival, unique in returning the local Nobel Laureate to his home ground, is one of the highlights of the Derry~Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 events programme.

Seamus Heaney, as Patron, will open the festival with an address entitled Important Places: A Reading with Commentary on Friday 20 September 2013. During the weekend there will be talks and readings about local places and the chance to take a guided tour of the places Heaney talks about or there will be ample time to explore them yourselves.

Other poetic gems include a reading by award-winning poet Michael Longley and novelist and short story writer Bernard MacLaverty, both of whom are favourites at StAnza. And among the other events are readings by Colette Bryce, Nick Laird and Sinead Morrissey. During the course of the weekend there will an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Michael McGuinness, one of the finest Irish artists of his generation. The National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, will close the Festival on Sunday 22 September.

Nine of the 10 Festival events will be held in the grounds of Laurel Villa Guesthouse in Magherafelt, a designated UK Poetry Society Landmark, which hosts regular poetry readings through the year.

On Home Ground Poetry Festival is part-funded by Culture Company 2013.

The full Festival program including box office information is available at http://www.laurel-villa.com

Through the window of poetry

15 Aug

The sun shone yesterday on the first day of the Edinburgh International Book Festival adding to the festive atmosphere in Charlotte Square. In the afternoon, the first of  the Festival’s poetry readings was introduced by guest selector, Don Paterson, who read at StAnza back in March.

Don Paterson (photo credit Al Buntin)

First on the podium was John Stammers, whose literary reputation as a ‘dandy and a metaphysical’ makes him unique among contemporary poetic voices. But he pulled few punches with poems from his new, soul-scouring collection Interior Night. Images of love among musical instruments in  ‘Ondine’ gave way to disturbing and yet darkly humorous narratives about drug addiction and an ode to a poster of  the singer, Alison Goldfrapp, seen from a London Underground platform. Strong, satirical stuff.

Sinead Morrissey’s gentle delivery counterpointed the powerful content of her poems, taken from her collection Through the Square Window. Her work ranged through a found poem based on the contents page of  a script of the York Mystery Plays to childhood memories of eating jugged hare, and the joys and fears of being a mother. Two of the most provocative images came from the title poem:  one is a dream of the dead arriving to wash the windows of a mother’s house. The other comes from  an experience of temporary paralysis on waking:  ‘flat on my back with a cork/ in my mouth, bottle-stoppered, in fact,/like a herbalist’s cure for dropsy.’  Morrissey is adept at exploring the mysteries at the heart of everyday experiences.

For the rest of the festival poetry programme, including some StAnza poets, click here

Poetry at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

13 Aug


Get your poetry fix at the EIBF this month. New director Nick Barley asked one of Scotland’s premier poets Don Paterson and the Scottish Poetry Library to advise on selections for the Poetry Programme and the line-up is stunning.

Four of the six poets shortlisted for this year’s Forward Prize are appearing: Seamus Heaney’s event is sold out but tickets for Jo Shapcott, Robin Robertson and Sinead Morrissey were still available a few days ago.

Also on the roster are Simon Armitage, Paul Muldoon John Glenday, Carol Ann Duffy (reading from her forthcoming collection, The Bees), Jackie Kay, John Stammers, Ron Butlin, StAnza’s own former Director, Brian Johnstone, Kathleen Jamie (in conversation with Jonathan Bate), Douglas Dunn and Mandy Haggith (on Norman McCaig). Kei Miller, our Poet in Residence last March, is also taking part. Click here for full programme and booking details.

Kei Miller at StAnza 2010

And check out the festival’s innovative – and free –  Unbound evenings at the Highland Park Spiegeltent, which will feature a poetry night on Thursday 19 August. Expect the unexpected…

Forging ahead with poetry …

4 Aug


Scotland’s festival season is a reminder that culture is something to be celebrated and art forms such as poetry and literature are far from being confined to the page.

Latest purveyor of on-trend live literature happenings on the Edinburgh and Glasgow scene is Forge of the Wordsmiths, a new writing social club that mixes story, poetry, music, visuals and performance. Their Garden Party at Sandeman House, Edinburgh, last month, featured some wild and witty poetry and prose Manifestations (I liked Booki$m, which wants to make books the new currency and solve the credit crunch), plus superbly sharp, short fiction from Gavin Inglis and an array of musical maestros. 

The next meeting will be at The Flying Duck, Glasgow, 29th August and the call is out for Three Minute Heroes to appear in poetry and fiction slots, and – for longer performances – new multimedia collaborations. Click here for details.

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