Maura Dooley (1957) is of Irish extraction, but was born in the English town of Truro. She grew up in Bristol and has a degree from the University of York. She lives in London at present, where she teaches creative writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. Dooley has published a number of poetry collections, including Explaining Magnetism (1991), Kissing A Bone (1996) and Life Under Water (2008). Her work has gained awards on several occasions. In 1987, she won the Eric Gregory Award. In 1997, her poem ‘The Message’ won the Forward Poetry Prize. Both Kissing a Bone and Life Under Water were short-listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize.
In her poetry, Dooley often descends in a subtle way to the deeper layers of human experience. In that respect her work is related to that of such poets as Elizabeth Bishop and Paul Muldoon. The title of her most recent collection, Life Under Water, speaks volumes. Dooley dives under the surface, under the physical experiencing of reality, in search of the complex currents of emotion and memory that flow out of that perception. In her poem ‘Dulwich Picture Gallery through a veil of tears’ the I-figure visits an exhibition along with someone else who has lost someone. What exactly has happened remains unclear. Perhaps a dear one has passed on, but it could also have to do with a lost love. Gradually, Dooley makes it clear to us that she is attempting to get through to the deeper essence of the total experience. In this process, visible reality becomes occasion, image and symbol: “Then pulling you onto the road in those moments / before headlights are needed, I lit a cigarette for you, something else you’d given up.”
Also typical of Dooley is that she quite often links her own experience to collective reflection and shared memory. In her poem ‘The World Upside Down’, the observation of the outside world through a frozen window-pane becomes the point of departure for an intriguing but highly personal peregrination through English history. And in the long, impressive poem ‘The Source’, she mixes social involvement, scientific factual material and images of religious and literary origins with highly individualistic perception.
[Maura Dooley is to appear at the Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam in June 2009. This text has been written for this occasion.]