Blackbird Book Club: Sinead Morrissey

Watch video of the Portadown-born poet talking with the book club at Queen's University

Sinead Morrissey, born in Portadown 1972, has already published four collections of poetry: Fire in Vancouver (1996), Between Here and There (2002), The State of the Prisons (2005) and Through the Square Window (2009).

She has won an array of awards including the Patrick Kavanagh Award, The Eric Gregory Award, the Arts Council Macaulay Fellowship, the Michael Hartnett Award and the Rupert and Eithne Strong Trust Award. And she has been shortlisted for other prestigious poetry accolades, such as the TS Eliot Prize - three times!

Despite such achievements, Morrissey spoke to us at the Blackbird Book Club with humility, rigour, humour and a refreshing lack of self-regard. She focused primarily on her latest collection, Through the Square Window, which contains a number of gems including the title poem and which won the British National Poetry Competition in 2007.

Paul Batchelor in The Guardian rightly praised Morrissey for her ‘clear-eyed’ outlook and taut rhythms. Her latest collection focuses upon a theme which could so easily become cloying and sentimental – motherhood.

But Morrissey obviates this in at least two ways: she enters the imaginative world of the child, seeing in their clear-sighted way and she unsettles any cosy concept of motherhood or childhood by undercutting several poems with an eerie resonance that can be deeply unsettling.

Morrissey is capable of many different tones. In ‘Vanity Fair’, for example, she shunts the reader between irony and candour so that we never quite know whether her Amelia challenges Thackeray’s rather limpid portrait or suggests a figure even more calculating than the Amelia of Thackeray’s novel.

Though, I think Morrissey does rather rescue than condemn. 'Vanity Fair' is a poem which is both playful and poignant and the reader cannot help but be aware that Amelia’s marriage to the faithful Dobbin, after so many years of yearning on his part, is not destined to be an unqualified success.

Morrisey’s post-modern sensibility – and ours, of course – renders the qualifications all the more realistic and we are able, in our time, to feel much greater sympathy with the somewhat anti-heroic Amelia. More than one critic has commented upon Morrissey’s formal sophistication and, in her talk, she alluded to this with admirable sang-froid.

‘Vanity Fair’ is a wonderful example of how Morrissey re-invents Classical metres such as the Alexandrine (the long iambic six-foot line) for a contemporary ear, eschewing full rhyme and adopting a sonorous and sometimes ironic half rhyme reminiscent of Muldoon and Heaney in quite different ways, for she shares Muldoon’s wit and Heaney’s sensory grip on concrete particulars.

It was a most illuminating and enjoyable session. Morrissey allowed us many glimpses behind that fascinating square window – a metaphor conjuring both formal regularity and the magic (and sometimes horror) of the window a child draws.