Poet of Honour: Sinéad Morrissey

Poet of Honour is a series of Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation’s celebration of some of the best contemporary poets who have become iconic and a major inspiration.


I am not Stanley Moss as in Talking to Stanley on the Telephone by Michael Schmidt, a collection just published by Smith|Doorstop, but I enjoy a fair number of email exchanges with Schmidt. So, when he nominated Sinéad Morrissey for our Poet-of-Honour celebration, I felt honoured by both of them! Morrissey is one of our most revered poets. There is a valid reason behind it. Even as I write this, she has been shortlisted for the 2021 Pigott Poetry Prize. You can see in her biog the list of many awards her work enjoys. Having taken a journey through various cultures, I suppose it comes naturally to her not only to capture a sweeping range of images, sculptures, monuments, and paintings, but to be touched by political, cultural and geographical aspects as well. Be that as shown in a poem on the Greek monetary crisis or as in The State of the Prison, depicting atypical forms or modes of imprisonments (sounding Kafkaesque at times). The family facets are also at the heart of much of her work; as in the grandfather’s image of punting on the horses to ghosts playing with the child.

Quite like Parallax, a name of her award-winning collection, Morrissey tries to see her ambience and the themes from a different point of reference to reveal poetry. The digging narrative to view this angle builds a trench for us to view and not disturb the habitat of life getting on with its business! I am in absolute awe; I hope you will be too!

-Yogesh Patel MBE


Three Poems by Sinéad Morrissey

Inside the Wizard

lightning and tornado hitting village
Photo by Ralph W. lambrecht on Pexels.com

Because it was. Hunger abroad, jabbing its smoke-funnel thumbs
down precisely on neighbouring farms, the exfoliated disc
of the land disarmed—so flat to the horizon in every direction
it makes a circle wherever you stand. Dust onto dust:
the grass destroyed, the cattle desiccated, the grace-
and-napkin clamour of breakfast devoured by the wind.
The government called in tornado-belt weather, but we knew better.

For our house to be lifted whole, for our roof to be lifted whole,
and every other building smashed to kindling? For every word
you had for what this meant we had a better word.
While Toto barked and ran from window to window, the thin pigs
stranded below stared up at the vanishing architrave
of all they knew and we stared down, as from a dirigible,
at the split earth’s gritty distress, its rabid unanchoring—

He will burn up the chaff in unquenchable fire.
And how like us they were, the Saints, in their burnished
plaits and socks, standing in shining rows. If you’ve seen
their faces once, as we have, you become unfrightenable.
The colours of Heaven were what we carried back,
so bright and adamantine in our daily work we kept them
as a talisman or spell—like wishing trees or movies, only real.

Carcanet Press, 2016


House Rules

silhouette photo of person holding door knob
Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

1.

Come in. Welcome.
Dave’s told us everything.

2.

Drop your phone in the basket—
we can take care of it.

Good.

We keep our reception clear for God.

3.

This is the kitchen. Whoever does the cooking
also washes up. We call it Being Mother.
The men eat first so we serve them first.

They’re away right now at target practice.

4.

And this is the Shriving Room.
Just whatever you feel the need to share.
We listen silently.

We give to Dave
Dave gives to God
so through Dave we give to God
Dave-God is the God in us
and God-in-Us is God for Dave—

We never run out.

From each according—
Don’t worry. We’ll teach you.

6.

There’s no traffic of course.
The crows make a racket
but you soon get used to it.

We borrow each other’s clothes on Sundays—
Dave picks who wears
whose shoes.

7.

Here’s where we Sister-Sleep.
I know. The relief.
I felt it too.
Years ago.

8.

Dave says the heart is a needle;
if we render our lives
as a whetstone
we can pierce anything.

9.

He’ll be back soon.

I wish I could go through my own Withholding
all over again.

10.

Like all of us
you’ve travelled such a long way round
to be found at last.

Carcanet Press, 2016


A Tourniquet for Emily Davison

woman wrapped in tape
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

A harridan-Houdini, cages—and not just the ribcage of that final horse
you hailed like a tram on Tattenham Corner—they the reynes
of his brydel henten—but corsets, railings, handcuffs, cubby holes,
heat shafts inside the Houses of Parliament, taunted you all your life,
faire Emelye, like the Keep Out signs on the King’s Estate
or the clang of your yellowing cell in Strangeways
each time they frogmarched you back. What manner of woman were you?
Appalled editorials harrumphed in a fug of pipe fumes;
a child on a poster in a nacreous cardigan wept stunted tears of neglect—
Mummy’s a Suffragette!—outside Marylebone Station.

At first the slippery trick of fasting set you free, by which the bones
assert their own supremacy: your sentences axed repeatedly
just by turning the face of Kafka’s Hunger Artist or a starveling Christ
before Pentecost towards your captors. Queasiness in Whitehall;
a burn like caustic soda through the notion of gentleman.
But it didn’t take long for the State to stiffen its spine, roll up its sleeves
and conjure a bag of tricks of its own: a tube, a buckle, a funnel, a gag,
your own body breathing on its slab, forced to outfox you.
You staggered from each feeding session dishevelled and drenched,
a veteran of rough seas and shipwrecks.

It must have been dizzying, the tableau vivant of each arrest so grimly
asymmetrical: whatever cry for justice launched towards man and heaven,
whatever momentary, public flurry—exploding glass, fire in a pillar box—
collapsed suddenly to a woman with her hair undone, pale as a peony,
pinned between policemen. Horses, compacted torsos
and high-stepping hooves, flanked you here also:
their sinews the sinews of the immutable world, viciously reasserted.
As rain continued to fall on the reasonable cobblestones
you were escorted away from the theatre of the street like an apostate
over and over again, in violet weathers.

Carcanet Press, 2016


Sinéad Morrissey
Sinéad Morrissey


Sinéad Morrissey was born in Northern Ireland in 1972 and grew up in Belfast. She is the author of six poetry collections and has won many awards for her work, including First Prize in the UK National Poetry Competition, the Irish Times Poetry Prize (2009, 2013) and the T S Eliot Prize (2013). Her most recent collection, On Balance, won the Forward Prize for Best Collection (2017) and the European Poet of Freedom Award (2020). A Selected Poems, Found Architecture, was published by Carcanet last year. She has served as Belfast Poet Laureate (2013-2014), is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.

To read poets honoured previously here is a roll call; please click on the name.

George Szirtes

Steven O’Brien

Nick Makoha

Fiona Sampson

Mimi Khalvati

Vijay Seshadri

Pascale Petit

Imtiaz Dharker

Vidyan Ravinthiran

Cyril Dabydeen

Tishani Doshi

Martina Evans