This One High Field

11.9518.50

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The world (Michelle) O’Sullivan creates is very still, almost but not quite silent, but its salient features are beautifully illumined and it is always and entirely her own.
— Poetry Book Society Bulletin

In this, her third collection, Michelle O’Sullivan returns to now familiar settings — the countryside, woodlands, an estuary — to examine ‘deep-set questions’ in the light, half-light, dusk and dark. Phrases accumulate like courses in a well-built stone wall as she wrestles with syntax, even language itself. Memorable images — the sun that ‘pocketed / its watch and stole to the hills’ — mark her journey to ‘elsewhere’ in poems that are gnomic (‘Endpoint’), emotionally charged (‘The Difficult Balance’) and ever conscious of how faithful suffering is. But, in her distinctive style, she also offers consolations and relief: ‘Not since childhood / have I felt so light, / brief intervals when the heart / knows no grief.’

Poetic foremothers
To call Michelle O’Sullivan’s poetry “impressionistic” is not quite to capture the decentred, indeterminate quality of her work. The poems in her third collection This One High Field (Gallery Press, 60pp, €11.95) are high on atmospherics; her debt to her poetic foremothers Medbh McGuckian and Vona Groarke is apparent. ‘Transparencies’ — a very characteristic title — gives a good impression of the dominant tone: “Light occupies the unpeopled house. It rubs/its weightless hands together and looks to look/ deeper inside. The way a stranger might./ All the airs of keeping watch. The soothing kind. / What else can it do?”

That “looks to look” is typical of O’Sullivan’s very scrupulous, painstaking approach to capturing the minutiae of perception. The combination of abstraction and minute detail in these poems is striking:

A smoke of citrus green
rubs stark from the trees —
I meet your spring self
transient as a flower
from a hellebore.

O’Sullivan seems less concerned with capturing the outward signs of an encounter — and these poems are primarily concerned with encounters — than with registering the alterations it produces in consciousness. The effect, as with much of McGuckian’s work, could be described as phenomenological. And similarly, O’Sullivan’s work skirts the line between the experimental and the conventional: all the recognisable elements of the Irish lyric tradition are here — the light-drenched, shifting landscape, a kind of watery pastoral — but alongside these there is an unsettling abstraction, a restlessness, and a self-questioning quality that keeps the reader on her toes.

— Caitriona O’Reilly, The Irish Times

I have also been enjoying the scrupulously observant lyricism of Michelle O’Sullivan’s third collection This One High Field (The Gallery Press). — Caitríona O’Reilly, The Irish Times (The Best Poetry of 2018)

I loved Michelle O’Sullivan’s sustained, atmospheric This One High Field (The Gallery Press) — John McAuliffe, The Irish Times (The Best Poetry of 2018)

Further along the western seaboard in Mayo, Michele O’Sullivan’s This One High Field, has an austere equipoise and clarity that is becoming increasingly rare. — Gerald Dawe, The Lonely Crowd (Books of the Year, 2018)

Publication Date: 2018
Details: 64pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 91133 753 9
ISBN HBK: 978 1 91133 754 6

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