Historically attuned and touchingly personal, imaginatively wide-ranging and linguistically precise, Sinéad Morrissey’s poetry is as many-angled and perceptive as the title of her fifth collection, Parallax (2013), suggests. Winner of the prestigious T. S. Eliot Prize, the collection embodies many of the qualities of her writing to date. Rooted in our everyday experiences yet often provocatively eerie, philosophically engaged yet also spiritual, Morrissey’s poems harbour a strong sense of her Northern Irish identity – from the sectarian violence of a Troubles-era childhood, to Belfast as a bustling modern-day city – while also ranging to international locations, including Japan, New Zealand and China.
Born in 1972 and brought up in Belfast, Morrissey began writing at an early age. She is frequently noted as the youngest winner, at 18, of the Patrick Kavanagh Award. But it wasn’t until six years later that her first collection was published. There was Fire in Vancouver (1996) announced the arrival of a questing and questioning poet, fascinated by journeys but also by social strictures – the family, a Communist upbringing, organised religion – and the difficulty of becoming oneself. Later collections have developed these themes in striking directions. Like the poet’s shifting shade in ‘Shadows’, ‘retracting back like drowning soap’, hers is a subtly transformative poetry. Akin to the younger generation of Northern Irish poets to which she belongs – including Colette Bryce, Nick Laird, Alan Gillis and Leontia Flynn – Morrissey’s dizzying array of subject matter and connection-making suggests the profound influence of Paul Muldoon. What sets Morrissey apart is her distinctive tenderness, an often delicate approach that can give her poems, as The Guardian has described, ‘the intimacy of whispered secrets’.
Throughout her varied oeuvre, multiple perspectives and visual objects – paintings, maps, films and photos – abound, triggering reflections on the slippery nature of perception and truth, in art as much as in life. But it is the nightmarish vision of a poem such as ‘Through the Square Window’, an anxiety dream about the poet’s newborn son and a vision of the dead ‘arrived / to wash the windows of my house’, that perhaps best exemplifies Morrissey’s work. Through a deft combination of realism and imaginative panache, this poet’s shifting viewpoint brings past, present and future into an always productive tension.
There Was Fire in Vancouver, Carcanet, Manchester, 1996
Between Here and There, Carcanet, Manchester, 2002
The State of the Prisons, Carcanet, Manchester, 2005
Through the Square Window, Carcanet, Manchester, 2009
Parallax, Carcanet, Manchester, 2013
Patrick Kavanagh Award (1990)
Eric Gregory Award (1996)
Michael Hartnett Award for Poetry (2005)
National Poetry Competition (2007)
Irish Times Poetry Now Award (2010)
T. S. Eliot Prize (2013)
Sinead Morrissey’s profile in The Poetry Archive