Books of the Year for 2019 from various publications:
Still life by Ciaran Carson
The most bitter-sweet wonder of the year is Ciaran Carson’s last, late windfall of poems, Still Life. The knowing pun of the title captures the quiet delight of being not dead yet that shines out in moments of tenderness and radiance. The long lines he handles so deftly are lifelines that keep him connected to the land of the living and remind us how lucky we are to inhabit it. And to have been around for such an astonishing time in Irish poetry. — Fintan O’Toole, The Irish Times
The late Ciaran Carson’s final collection of poems, the poignantly titled Still Life, is a sustained and typically jaunty meditation on beauty and mortality, and a myriad other topics, through considerations of individual paintings by artists from Velázquez to Basil Blackwell. Carson writes in long, sinuous lines that allow his imagination a last, great flourishing. Wry, witty and brave, this work is Carson at his finest. A heartbreaking and heart-restoring book. — John Banville
. . . the match between the ordinary and the visionary, and the sheer beauty, in Ciaran Carson’s Still Life.
— Colm Tóibín, The Irish Times
The wit and imagination of Ciaran Carson’s Still Life (Gallery) — even the title couldn’t resist gallows humour! — is another triumph of voice. A weries of poems written on art, sometimes while he was in hospital, recall his labyrinthine Belfast, always an effective metaphor for his complex inventive imagination.
— Martina Evans, Ticket: Irish Times Culture Magazine
Belfast poet Ciaran Carson’s final collection, Still Life (Gallery) is teeming with the visual world of numerous artists whose individuality Carson celebrates with the force of nature at his disposal. He was one of the country’s greatest poets and his passing earlier this year was a shock. These poems are some consolation. — Gerald Dawe, The Lonely Crowd
The outpourings of grief and affection since the death of Ciaran Carson in October have provided eloquent testimony to that writer’s place at the heart of modern poetry. For such a prolific writer his last few years had been unexpectedly fallow, until a terminal cancer diagnosis and his production of Still Life (Gallery, €11.95) at great speed during his final months. Art had always featured prominently in Carson’s work, and Still Life is a series of responses to beloved paintings, by artists from Diego Velázquez to Nicolas Poussin to Gerard Dillon. Carson’s thoughts on art are brought to life through the medium of the daily walks he takes round Belfast with his wife. “The whole brilliant apparatus evaporates,” he writes of the sky after a rainstorm. The whole brilliant apparatus of his work looks set to marvellously endure. Seldom can a poet have been more blessed in his place or a place more blessed in its poet. — Aingeal Clare, The Guardian
The Mother House by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
[A] writer with a keen insight into insular Celtic Christianity is Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. In The Mother House (Gallery, €11.95), Ní Chuilleanáin’s established preoccupations — allegorical journeys, the ghosts of the past, religious life — are copiously on show, but with a newly sharpened elegiac edge. Poems on the 1916 Easter Rising take the measure of Irish history, but with a familial intimacy (rebel leader Joseph Mary Plunkett was a great-uncle). Ní Chuilleanáin is not often given to direct political statement, but there is no mistaking the thrust of her elegy here for James Connolly (“He got tired waiting for the wind to change, // as we are exhausted waiting for that change”). A moving elegy also mourns her late poet husband Macdara Woods. This is Ní Chuilleanáin’s 10th collection; the welcome and overdue “mother house” of a Collected Poems has been announced for next year.
— Aingeal Clare, The Guardian
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s new collection The Mother House (Gallery), like the book’s cover ‘Giotto’s Circle’ by Janet Mullaney, is both truly enigmatic and physically direct at the same time. There is no one else who can do this double-take as convincingly as the Cork poet. — Gerald Dawe, The Lonely Crowd
. . . the haunting familiar divagations and unusual perspectives of Eliéan Ní Chuilleanáin’s The Mother House — John McAuliffe, Ticket: Irish Times Culture Magazine
Double Negative by Vona Groarke
Vona Groarke’s Double Negative, whose brief, piercingly vivid scenes pack some punch: it’s hard to shake a poem such as Vanishing Point (‘Sometimes the van was the colour of the field’). — John McAuliffe, Ticket: Irish Times Culture Magazine
The publisher always does justice to its long-term authors and on the eve of its 50th year it continues to produce new and vital work from the dangerous exhilaration of Vona Groarke’s Double Negative to The Gravity Wave, Peter Sirr’s dream-like investigations of science and memory. — Martina Evans, Ticket: Irish Times Culture Magazine
The Gravity Wave by Peter Sirr
Next year The Gallery Press celebrates 50 years of putting new Irish poetry in front of readers: its rude good health was clear in outstanding books . . . the press has published: the fluent lyricism of Peter Sirr’s The Gravity Wave. — John McAuliffe, Ticket: Irish Times Culture Magazine
Selected Poems 1961-2017 by John Montague
Still Life is one of two posthumous collections from Gallery in 2019. John Montague’s Selected Poems 1961-2017 (Gallery) is a fine tribute and terrific introduction to another influential Northern Irish poet. — Martina Evans, Ticket: Irish Times Culture Magazine