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Then the Hare


Michelle O’Sullivan is a marvel, writing tough, beautiful poems of nature and spirit, and ‘the field’s cosmic hides’. Her lines are precise and weather-worn, etched in an ‘often-said, difficult tongue. O’Sullivan’s Then the Hare (Gallery Books) is a collection to savour: ‘Bound to no season, white sunlight trembles/at the small wave.’ 

— Paul Perry, Books of the Year, Sunday Independent

Then the Hare is Michelle O'Sullivan's fourth collection.

Michelle O'Sullivan's shy, tentative art has found its way to many discerning admirers. Reviewing This One High Field in the Dublin Review of Books Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin noted how ‘The single moment becomes the special place'. 'This,' she wrote, 'is her third collection; her first appeared in 2012. I had been attracted by single poems before then, but the weight of her three books, and especially this one, convinces me that her work deserves to find its way to attentive readers. Readers who will not try to fit her into any boxes narrower than the big one marked “poets”, who will appreciate her skill with language, her alertness to the deep music of the world.'

Then the Hare displays further examples of Michelle O'Sullivan's precision of detail and feeling, rendering them in her signature idiosyncrasy of syntax and word use. These are countered by an extended narrative, 'A Winter in Milan' and the chancy playfulness of 'On Business'. The result is an intriguing, satisfying whole destined to endure. 

By evening I will have made a few marks on paper
and put them in a place where you might find them.
— 'For a Stranger'

Michelle O’Sullivan’s Then the Hare (Gallery, €12.95) opens with a precise, tangible image. “It seems the first in weeks /– actual sunlight on the table, /a strip so wide you could/ warm your hands in it.” (Welcome Stranger). The reader can’t help but share in this “sudden glee that it’s/you who comes to mind:/’Welcome, stranger, to this place/ where Joy doth sit on every bough.’”

The “you” is William Blake and it is a fitting evocation for a collection concerned with both the heavens and the earth. Blake’s dualist spirit is a strong presence, “Venus changes from evening star to morning star/ and almost surpasses earth every 584 days./There is that realignment.//Of earth’s sister or evil twin.” (At the Surface). O’Sullivan’s hopeful, watchful eye is a source of “Joy” as she looks down in Not Everything Violent Is Irreversible, summoning another Blakean image, the heavens reflected in the earth, “Thinking her dead I knelt where flag met grass. /Her still face, one eye open that held a blue/ and white piece of sky, that small.” The creature blinked, “startled, took breath again” and here there is a sense of the poet taking breath again too. That opening bar of sunlight feels like O’Sullivan’s spring might also be the return of poetry after a period of drought.

The highly observant “glee” noting details like “A November blackbird” who “doesn’t relinquish her seat/ from an aeroplane’s wing.//Content to skywatch a while, her bead-stubborn eye pierces the tail end of a cloud racing” could be O’Sullivan describing her own lyrics, her deceivingly quiet poems, which can be as timeless and piercing as that November blackbird, “As if she came from a courtyard centuries back, the wet air, the soon-to-be lit dark;//little gypsy, little pirate:/O, to have that ear and eye.”

— Martina Evans, Irish Times

Publication Date: 30 November 2023
Details: 72pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 91133 866 6
ISBN HBK: 978 1 91133 867 3

Cover: ‘Survival of the Fittest 1’ by Bernadette Kiely, oil on canvas

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