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The Watchful Heart - A New Generation of Irish Poets - Poems and Essays
May 2009

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The White Page / An Bhileog Bhan: Twentieth Century Irish Women Poets (2007 Edition)
November -0001

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Winter in the Eye: New & Selected Poems
April 2003

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Map and Atlas
June 2017

Heather Island

Joan McBreen

ISBN: 978-1-907056-01-7

Page Count: 56

Publication Date: Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Cover Artwork: Stuart Stils

About this Book

Through their simple, plain-spoken respect for the ordinary forces of the landscape she loves - for its fauna and flora, its 'season of stillness' or its 'disconsolate cry of the lost' - the poems in Joan McBreen's quietly lyrical fourth collection compose a settlement for the heart, even a site for soul-pondering. In brief elegies and celebrations her poems address losses, local phenomena, familial transitions, fashioning language-moments of subdued rapture (bird wings 'the colour of opals') or sharply accented nostalgia (living away from Ireland, she writes that 'one seashell to hold close/ to my ear would do,/ and rain on my face'). 'I sing my own song,' she says in one poem, and in the best of these poems her notes ring sweet and clear, so even winter clouds can 'break, letting in such light.'

Eamon Grennan

Author Biography

Joan McBreen is from Sligo. She divides her time between Tuam and Renvyle, County Galway. Her other poetry collections are: The Wind Beyond the Wall (Story Line Press, 1990), A Walled Garden in Moylough (Story Line Press and Salmon Poetry, 1995) and Winter in the Eye - New and Selected Poems (Salmon Poetry, 2003). She was awarded an MA from University College, Dublin in 1997. Her anthology The White Page / An Bhileog Bhán - Twentieth-Century Irish Women Poets was published by Salmon in 1999 and is in its third reprint. Her poetry is published widely in Ireland and abroad and has been broadcast, anthologised and translated into many languages. Her CD The Long Light on the Land - Selected Poems, read to a background of traditional Irish airs and classical music, was produced by Ernest Lyons Productions, Castlebar, County Mayo in 2004. She has given readings and talks in many universities in the USA including Emory, Villanova, De Paul (Chicago), Cleveland, Lenoir Rhynne, N.C. and the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Joan McBreen's 2009 publications include a collection, Heather Island and the anthology The Watchful Heart - A New Generation of Irish Poets - Poems and Essays. Together with her ongoing involvement with Irish literary festivals such as the Yeats Summer School, Clifden Arts Week, Listowel Writers' Week and The Cúirt International Festival of Literature, since 2007 she has been Literary Advisor and co-ordinator of the Oliver St. John Gogarty Literary Festival at Renvyle House Hotel, Connemara, Co. Galway.

Read a sample from this book

Montbretia on the High Road, Renvyle

Between hedge and house
montbretia flares.
Slow rain falls. September,
season of stillness,

of hoar-frost
and early dusk. From here
at the edge of the world
summer's birds take off

from rowans laden
with fruit. When you left
absence and distance
became companions, familiar

as the curves on the road
and Tully mountain
in the kind of light
only this landscape knows.

I will begin again
as montbretia bulbs
send out white roots
in water, on a window-sill.


Review by Fiona Sampson, The Irish Times, Saturday June 27th 2009

Joan McBreen's Heather Island is, as its title suggests, similarly conscious of the context that life in a landscape supplies. McBreen is a poetry activist on that non-metropolitan model which is one of the Irish scene's profound strengths. Not only does it allow the lived detail of country life to be taken seriously on the page, but it nurtures diversity of diction. The condensation in McBreen's Hawthorn on the High Road differs profoundly from Wyley's equal economy:

The bay trees I placed
either side of my blue door
are shrivelled by a salt wind

McBreen frequently implies a narrative, for example by her choice of the second person, ballad diction (Daughter in July Downpour ), or title ( In Memory of Louis MacNeice ). This slim, focused volume is also inflected by haiku, including the sets Five Poems in Spring and the Omey stanzas, which proceed by the haiku logic of stasis and juxtaposition.

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