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The Sun-fish


Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

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The Sun-fish, winner of the International Griffin Poetry Prize and a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, reinforces convictions that Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s transforming and transporting ways of seeing are like no other: silk scarves fly at her face ‘like a car wash’; there’s the ‘whisper of a cashmere sleeve’, the nuns’ ‘leathery kiss’ and a lighthouse ‘scraping the sea with its beam’. By now familiar motifs – waves, tides, dividing lines, arches and doorways, journeys, a high tower and water, water everywhere, reprise previous effects and reach forward into new domains. Poems about men and the men in her family, a ‘woman’s story and the stories of women’, elegies, homages and her family’s history, are developed through mist or the gap in a tale. Other poems tease out the tricks of light, at dawn or dusk, to open the lock of language. The title sequence is both alluring and hypnotic. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry is one of the marvels of our time.

'There is no one else in Irish poetry, or poetry elsewhere, writing like this. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin is a unique voice, and this book, as all her books, is to be welcomed.' — Matthew Sweeney, Southword


'She is a truly imaginative poet, whose imagination is authoritative and transformative. She leads us into altered or emptied landscapes, such as that in ‘The Polio Epidemic,’ when children were kept indoors, but the poet escapes on a bicycle ‘I sliced through miles of air/free as a plague angel descending/On places buses went …’ Each poem is a world complete, and often they move between worlds, as in the beautiful ‘A Bridge between Two Counties.’ These are potent poems, with dense, captivating sound and a certain magic that proves not only to be believable but necessary, in fact, to our understanding of the world around us.”' — Judges citation, International Griffin Poetry Prize

‘Although she has long been famous in Ireland,
it is perhaps only in the last 10 years or so that Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has begun to receive due recognition in Britain. Ní Chuilleanáin’s work often eludes categories. At its most densely enigmatic — for example in ‘The Clouds’, ‘The Water’ and ‘Where the Pale Flower Flashes and Disappears’ — Ní Chuilleanáin’s work is cousin to the bejewelled, mesmeric poems of Medbh McGuckian, though its dynamic and pacing are often more urgent. Sometimes, out of its flux, there emerges a sudden arresting authority. The effects of light on water offer an embarrassment of riches . . . the effect is one of awe . . . as Ní Chuilleanáin reapeatedly indicates, the world is certainly mysterious enough to be going on with.’

— Sean O’Brien, The Guardian

‘One of the great pleasures of reading Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin’s work comes from entering a world of such magnitude . . . Again and again, she manages to balance her highly developed set of emblems against the fragile, creaturely life she also honors. Ní Chuilleanáin’s poems may often read like partially occluded narratives, but they also respond to political and social occasions. In her two most recent volumes,The Girl who Married the Reindeer from 2001, and The Sun-fish, which has just been released in Ireland, Ní Chuilleanáin presents social and naturalistic settings and imagery with higher resolution than in the past. The mystery remains, but it’s tempered more often now by social immediacy. I love how effortlessly Ní Chuilleanáin collapses the usual divisions between intellect and imagination. (Her) tendency to counterpoint her enigmatic material with fuller narratives deepens in her newest volume, The Sun-fish.

In ‘On Lacking the Killer Instinct,’ she writes of her father’s war experience. In ‘The Polio Epidemic,’ she delves into memories of her childhood in Cork City. The last poem in the book, ‘The Copious Dark,’ follows a woman whose nighttime city walks form a whole atmosphere of mind. And her personal impressions relate to her social urge, her desire to account for others. Ní Chuilleanáin in her steady and increasing success return(s) us to human scale. Perhaps this is why the most impressive poems often feel so estranging.

They show us how profoundly unknown, though not necessarily unknowable, our actual lives may be.’

— Peter Campion, Poetry

‘It is Ní Chuilleanáin’s skill in negotiating what are, essentially, different realms (which is always the business of metaphor, and metaphor is her beautifully handled, or played, instrument) that always catches and holds my attention, and it is a skill on plain and continuous view in this latest volume (a Poetry Book Society recommendation) . . . she manages, as her best poems always manage, to embody mystery that’s been palpably encountered and, in a language of concrete presence, expressed. Again and again, that is, she creates small, clear windows into a fully realized narrative world . . . one charged all of a sudden by something we’d have to call visionary . . . The dominant impression is of poems that are like the sun-fish themselves,

“Suddenly present, a visitation” — all composed in a tone that is equal parts knowledge, wisdom, at times a quiet ferocity, and something like warm yet detached compassion. Like other Ní Chuilleanáin volumes, this one resembles, with no hint of piety, a book of prayers — secular and sacred at once, and curiously consoling in their depths of spiritual reserve. “How as a child she watched without moving,” she says in one poem. It is that patience married to that intensity, that utterly absorbed attention that drives these poems, poems that make Sun-Fish yet another indispensable Ní Chuilleanáin collection.’

— Eamon Grennan, The Irish Times

Winner 2010 International Griffin Poetry Prize

Poetry Book Society Recommendation

Year Published: 2009
Details: 64pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 482 4
ISBN ebook: 978 1 85235 575 3

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