Northern Irish poet Sinead Morrissey delivered a carefully curated selection of her poems in in a poetry reading at Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Library on April 3.
A Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle in Callaghan, Australia, Morrissey has written six collections of poetry. In January 2014, she won the T.S. Eliot Prize, which is awarded to “the best collection of new verse in English first published in the [United Kingdom] or the Republic of Ireland” each year, for her fifth poetry collection, “Parallax.” In September 2017, Morrissey won the Forward Prizes of Poetry for best collection for her sixth poetry collection, “On Balance.”
Morrissey graced her audience with a warm energy and thanked the sponsors of the event before launching into her poetry. She exhibited poise not only during her poetry readings, but also throughout the entirety of her performance and visit through her calm voice and exquisite manner.
Between poems, Morrissey related anecdotes to the audience about the creative choices behind the poems she had chosen to read. Through these stories, Morrissey made it clear that she drew her inspiration as a poet from her family and other works of literature. For example, she said her poem “The Millihelen” — a poem about the Titanic’s journey and its passengers — was based off of “The Titanic”, as well as Helen of Troy from Greek mythology.
“If Helen’s face had launched a thousand ships, then a Millihelen is the unit of measurement required to launch one ship,” Morrissey said.
Morrissey ties the two ideas together conjure this idea of life restarting itself even when things go wrong, ending the poem with such a declaration: “in fact everything regains its equilibrium.” Another poem she read, “Vanity Fair,” was the unwritten love letter between two characters in William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel “Vanity Fair.”
Morrissey read all of her poems with an enthusiastic tone, but deepened her voice to match the ringing theme of mortality or rebirth in a poem and rose her voice in pitch or incredulity according to the silliness of a poem’s subjects.
Her poetry has simple inspirations, but manages to embody massive themes including family, birth and rebirth, death and a longing for the past. Morrissey’s poems employ imagery through her use of an almost dark, creeping diction; in almost every poem she read, death was mentioned, as well the mentioning of words like “maggots” which she would then tie to biblical references, such as Noah’s Ark, adding almost menacing elements to her poems that only served to enunciate her themes more.
Juxtaposed together, these images illustrate themes and give her poetry a haunting, almost dream-like quality, as exemplified in “Through the Square Window”: “The heads of the dead are huge. I wonder / if it’s my son they’re after, his / effortless breath, his ribbon of years─ / … that delivers this shining exterior…”
When the event ended, the crowd burbled with cheer before they exited to join the event’s sponsors in the parlor for refreshments.
“I thought Morrissey gave a dazzling reading that gave us a sense of her versatility, erudition and imaginativeness.” Emily Leithauser, visiting professor in the English Department and Creative Writing Program, said. “One of the best poetry readings I’ve attended at Emory.”
All in all, through a combination of awe and imagery, Morrissey’s breadth for language and life is enough to shake one to one’s core. The cooling calm behind her words are enough to soothe anyone’s day, and reminds the reader that in the end, “everything regains its equilibrium.”
The event was sponsored by Irish Studies at Emory, the Creative Writing Program and the Department of English, with additional support from the Center for Creativity and Arts and the Stuart A. Rose Library.