Sinéad Morrissey reads in celebration of Irish literature

Sinéad Morrissey, an award-winning Irish poet and writer-in-residence at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, shakes hands with a fan after her lecture Tuesday, April 5 at the Benton Museum. (Jason Jiang/Daily Campus)

For some, Irish art and poetry is rarely sought out, apart from a copy of James Joyce. For poet and author Sinéad Morrissey, however, Irish poetry is not only her profession, but a source of inspiration, and Morrissey spoke about that inspiration in a lecture Tuesday evening.

“Sinéad’s poetry transfixes us. It instills in us a movement, and it keeps us moving. Sinéad is eminently concerned with the visual world, displaying a striking concreteness, but also the invisible world…made possible by memory and imagination,” said Matthew Ryan Shelton, a graduate student that introduced Morrissey.

The first poem Morrissey read focused on her family and her lineage. In the poem, she imagined that her own body, namely her hands, were a representation of the permanent connection between her mother and father.

“My father’s in my fingers, but my mother’s in my palms,” Morrissey read. “They may have been repelled to separate hemispheres, to other lovers, but in me they link…At least I know their marriage by my hands.”

Before reading other poems, Morrissey spoke about using different authors for inspiration, including “Vanity Fair” by William Thackeray. In the novel, one character writes a passionate letter to the man she loves, though the contents of that letter are never revealed to the reader. One poem, then, Morrissey said, was an imagining of what that letter might contain.

“Dearest William, I could begin by hoping you are well in England, and I do,” Morrissey read. “But this is not a weather talk sort of letter…The whole house sleeps, even Becky and I am kept awake six weeks by your absence.”

Other poems were darker, focusing on real world history. One of these poems, Morrissey said, was inspired by a piece of history she learned about the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin.

“This is a poem about photographs in the 1930s in the Soviet Union, and a time where it was very difficult to doctor a photograph,” Morrissey said. “Then, it was very difficult to change a photograph, and Stalin set up a ministry to change photographs, very much like ‘1984,’ so that as people fell out of favor with Stalin, but were still there in the public record, this record had the power to remove them from public record. The idea of a photograph as truth and as a moment in time were undermined…these photos kept in line with political contingency.”

Morrissey’s love of history became clearer as she read more poems and spoke specifically on how we view the past and our ancestors.

“My son keeps asking me questions that I’ve already written poems about. He’d ask, ‘it is true, mommy, that everything happened in black and white?’ But we do think that, and there’s no greater misconception about history,” Morrissey said.

More poems drew on Morrissey’s personal experiences, including a visit to the circus in the summer.

“If you haven’t experienced a tacky Irish circus on the wet seaside, well, you haven’t lived,” Morrissey said.

In addition to her own personal experiences, Morrissey spoke about how she drew inspiration from the experiences of her family and friends, including her mother, who, Morrissey said, learned about The Beatles just before they gained international popularity.

“This next bit’s true. I keep writing about The Beatles, they’re sort of fascinating. When my mother was 14 and in school, her friend said that there’s this band…they’re about to launch their first single and they’re gonna be big,” Morrissey said, drawing laughs from the audience.

In keeping with the theme of family, Morrissey’s final reading was a poem told from the perspective of her daughter about her life.

“This is a poem, and it’s in the voice of my daughter, and she’s telling me my life. She told me this when she was six…we were driving, and she said ‘this happened to you and this happened to you’ and it was so hilarious what she focused on and what she glossed over,” Morrissey said. Thank you all for listening.”


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.