Page Count: 80
Publication Date: Sunday, March 01, 2009
About this Book
A lively and very readable collection; O'Brien has returned to many of her earlier themes, including dislocation - as she seeks to capture the precise moment of an event, its fulcrum.
There are poems of heart and hearth and human relationships, familial, sexual and historical: a father neglecting to teach his young daughter to swim, the trapped girls of The Chinese Chest and poems of nature; often as closely concerned with the nature of man as the countryside they describe.
Many of these poems, though serious in intent, are dealt with in a lighthearted and often witty manner, exploring a fascination with the ways of the world and its moral contradictions.
Jean O'Brien is a Dubliner now living in the Midlands. Her work is widely published in magazines and journals. She has published two collections of poetry, The Shadow Keeper (Salmon, 1997) and Dangerous Dresses (2005). She read for an M.Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College and facilitates creative writing classes for venues as diverse as the Irish Writers' Centre, Dublin City Council and various County Councils and in Mountjoy, Limerick and the Midlands Prisons. She was Writer-in-Residence for Co. Laois in 2005. She was last year's recipient of the Fish International Poetry Award. also in 2008 she was commissioned to write a poem for the Oxfam Calendar. Her poetry was described by Fiona Sampson writing in the Irish Times as ... "effortless writing, graceful and exact as any pirouette in its insight".
Read a sample from this book
Moving My Brother's Books
Lovely Legs reviewed by Paul Perry, The Irish Times, Saturday May 23rd 2009
IN JEAN O'BRIEN'S third collection of poetry Lovely Legs there's a very telling line in the poem Photographing Air . "Things are not what they seem," O'Brien writes. And in a book with such a breezy title, bright cover and light tone throughout there's a much more serious and complex undercurrent at work. O'Brien's father appears in more than half a dozen poems. He is the one waking O'Brien's "younger me" to the news of her mother's death in When Childhood Broke . She passes his parish when lamenting her departure from Dublin, and he is the one who populates her memories and dreams. "The dead visit me in dreams", she writes in Scandinavian Dream . The wonder and strangeness of finding oneself in "foreign fields" has created a new imaginative space for O'Brien's moving lyrics. Her imagery can be memorable, as in Masks , where "a man stands in a field wearing a mantle / of bees", but darkness hovers throughout. Her mother's gold band tightens "its golden grip" on her and a poem to the poet's daughter suggests "the kernel of death / sits under her skin". "Thinking of lost summers", the past is a central theme of the collection and culminates in the moving piece Before .
This is her on that green day
skirt askew, hair streaming out,
holding the ropes of the swing taut
rushing to meet her future
The poems in Lovely Legs are like "the flickering scenes we scrutinise / in the darkened room" of the final poem. O'Brien has managed to make an effecting collage of images and memories with a tone of both pathos and resilience as she tells us, "I touch the wound and walk".
Paul Perry's most recent book is The Orchid Keeper. He is currently writer in residence for Dún Laoghaire Rathdown public library service
Lovely Legs reviewed by Jim McAuley, The Irish Examiner, Monday June 22, 2009
Jean O'Brien's accomplishments extend from this third collection of her poems to her role as writer-in-residence for Co Laois and as facilitator for creative writing classes in prisons and elsewhere.This review appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, June 22, 2009
The intensity of feeling, even while restrained by the poet's attention to significant imagery, gives these poems strength, whether reflecting on the loss of her mother and father or recalling events which reveal how observant she was in childhood, a gift that serves her well as a poet.
Many poems describe natural events, ranging from a beekeeper with his swarm (and the queen-bee "snared in a cage under his chin") to
"Once I saw a cow nudging an inert lump of brown; moaning low she fussed the fretted circling the still calf until it stirred, moving its nut-brown just born head..."
Many more poems carry ironic undercurrents, generated by everything from social inequalities to bad weather. These witty, compassionate poems are rewarding, though some will find the typographical errors distracting.
Lovely Legs reviewed by Val Nolan, Poetry Ireland Review
Issue 98, July 2009
Lovely Legs by Jean O'Brien [is a book] in which the faraway promises of jet-trails are constrained by the domesticity of skylight frames. A lively, readable collection concerned with the intricacies of relationships and the many moral contradictions of society, Lovely Legs follows the arcs of 'lives on a fulcrum', honing in repeatedly on moments of change and realisation. Bee poems such as 'Masks', which opens the collection, make clear that the book's presiding deity is Plath, though O'Brien successfully resists the kind of easy mimicry which might have compromised her own perspective. Poems here discuss femininity and children, but they are all very clearly in O'Brien's voice, a seemingly carefree lilt which nonetheless exudes complexity and depth. Old stories of 'hope and romance' dissolve into poems that actively resist (and sometimes ridicule) the past, while other pieces here lean heavily on popular culture such as The Simpsons or the word soup of 'magnetic poetry' which clings to refrigerator doors across the country.
Nature too is everywhere in Lovely Legs, but, in contrast to the 'weedy gravel, neglected lawns' of Moran's Green or Granier's 'Suburban Woods', it is the cultivated nature of yards and gardens which predominates. Similarly, the many poems here addressed to or about O'Brien's 'younger self' attempt to civilise the unruliness of childhood, and, in a self-mythologising turn, lessons are always learnt. Often they are comically disproportionate to the experience, such as when O'Brien recalls how, as children travelling along redbrick lanes, she and her friends were approached by a pervert, a Joycean encounter which 'make us remember / to hurry home for tea.'
Further poems explore notions of poetry and language themselves, images which 'escape us' or verses which don't have 'enough words to go around'. Frequently O'Brien's writing focuses on people's inability to communicate, such as the last speaker of the Uru tongue who 'has kept herself to herself / since the second-last person / who spoke Uru died.' Meanwhile,
Truth is a labyrinth, obscured
like the laburnum that lies between
the sapwood and the heartwood
we sense it just below the surface.
It is only in the lyric, in the poetic rush, that true connections can actually occur. Poetry is an interactive art, one where ' coded messages are posted / in limited language', and unpacking the layers of meaning in these communiqués is part of the pleaure of this dense book. O'Brien's verse - like her bees - is 'buzzing and busy'. Her word of 'flat, broad horizons' is one seen 'with compound eyes', and her warm response to Paula Meehan's poetry is equally applicable to her own; amid all the 'noise of traffic', the 'clang of tram bells', there is also 'the brightening hum of her words' which, 'like a modern day Angelus / calls us home'.