Jean O'Brien

 Watch Jean reading 'Before'



New Poems

by Jean O'Brien


available from the Salmon website:


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Out Of His Element


If he could fly he would go now


to his spawning pool, instead he


lies drowning in air,


his glistering


iridescent scales dulling down.


His eyes grow cold and flat


clouding over, the leap and struggle


ended. One leap too far and he landed


on earth stranded on grass


the blue of sky fixed in him,


he dreams of flashing through clear water,


casting his sheen and shadow


onto stones on the river bed.


His gills heaving now as he draws air


his lungs gulping for water.






Dear Diary


After, when we had all stopped wanting to be


Anne Frank, when we had spent nights writing


our diaries and were bored with our life stories,


Amy Johnson was our big thrill. We could


picture her still, up there, flying high.


You had to die to be a heroine.




Then we all got interested in boys


put away our toys of childhood, pouted


our lips, widened our eyes. Our friends’ spotty


older brother, whom last year we thought of


as clumsy and a bother, now became


an object of desire. We licked our lips


on lead pencils and wrote Dear Diary


as if our engines were on fire.






Vitreous China


I locked my young self in the bathroom


not meaning to, but the lock was rusty


and when the snip went over,


that was that, it could not be pulled back.


No-one had missed me, so I rummaged


in the cabinet and found what I was after,


my father's razor. Too small to reach


the mirror, I copied him by touch,


drawing the blade backwards and forwards


across my face, tapping the lethal steel


on the side of the basin that I always


thought said Virtuous China, and made


it sing like I had seen him do.


Then a strong stinging sensation


on my skin, it hurt and I wailed.


Mother came running and tried to get in,


but the door held, Eventually


father shouldered it, the lock gave


and they came crashing through.


I can still hear her roar as she saw


my face crisscrossed and dripping


with blood. Only then did I remember


that girls don't shave.






The Stolen Sheela ni Gig of Aghangower Speaks


Set high above the doorway, under the flying buttress,


pockmarked now with age and lately turned to stone,


I sat. Know me I whisper, I am woman, I am crone.


With my etched lashless eyes, hairless head,


grinning mouth and triangular nose how could I


tempt anyone?


The wind and rain are always at me, lashing me,


leaving me lonely. Someone saw me and desired me,


swayed by my crude posturing, my endless fertility.


When I open my thighs the world flows in


and the world flows out. I have spent all my life


so far exposed above Aghagower perched in my place


knowing the world through the spread of my lips.


In the unconditional dark someone dethroned me,


un-croned me, made me young and beautiful again.


I shrieked leave me be, I was happy.




Winner, 2008 Fish International Poetry Prize









Wakeful in early morning, night edging


out of the fields in the half-light the hare sits.




Only the twitch of his silky ears lets us know


he is here, alert, ready to kick off




and jinking run, unlike that crouching hare


caught and framed. This hare




is creating an illusion of motion


separating the thought from the deed.




a deception of making and remaking


himself at acrobatic speed, a dust-devil twisting




that way and this - a will-o'-wisp bowling along.


Light is brailling the landscape hooking him




in place, as he apes the grey dawn. He waits


for the fields to colour up and the empty air




to resume its constant hum. A living language


running on the land waiting for sunrise




to make its move. Waiting for its shadow


to rise up and break for the horizon.










The Shadow Keeper (1997)




Dangerous Dresses (2005)




Lovely Legs (2009)




Merman (2012)




Fish On A Bicycle (2016)




and two chapbooks:


Working the Flow (1992)

(Lapwing, Belfast)


REACH (2004)





Anthologies I am delighted to have been included in within the past few years.




Books I believe everyone should read:




Ruth Padel - The Poem and The Journey

Chatto & Windus UK.




Mark Strand and Eavan Boland - The Making of a Poem

Norton USA.




Neil Astley - Poetry With An Edge

Bloodaxe UK.




Billy Collins - Turning Back to Poetry

Random House USA.




Fleur Adcock - 20th Century Women's Poetry

Faber UK.




Sean O'Brien - The Firebox

Picador UK.



Other books I have enjoyed:





Jeffrey Meyers - Robert Frost - A Biography

Mariner Books ,USA.




Jeffrey Meyers - Manic Power - Robert Lowell & his circle





Tim Kendall - Paul Muldoon

Seren, UK.




Clair Wills - Reading Paul Muldoon

Bloodaxe, UK.




Sean O'Brien - The Deregulated Muse

Bloodaxe, UK.




Eds. W.N. Herbert & Matthew Hollis - Strong Words, Modern Poets on Modern Poetry

Bloodaxe, UK.




Micxhael J. Bugeja - The Art and Craft of Poetry

Writer's Digest Books.




Philip Davies Roberts - How Poetry Works

Pelican, UK.




The Fading Smile - Poets in Boston from Robert Lowell to Sylvia Plath

Norton, USA.




Ed. Francis Bixler - Original Essays on the Poetry of Anne Sexton

UCA Press, USA.



I could go on...!








Poetry Ireland Review



Salmon Poetry



Irish Writers Centre



The Poetry Archive



Ask About Writing



Poetry Society



Dixie Friend Gay (Artist)



The Arvon Foundation















Contact Me

Jean is available for readings and festivals and as a Creative Writing tutor, for which she has many years experience both in Ireland and abroad.  She has tutored in the Irish Writers' Centre, for Dublin City Council and many other County Councils, the Prison Service and as part of the Writers' in Schools Scheme. Her classes can be poetry only or general creative writing, including Memoir and the Short Story.


She was the Writer in Residence for Co. Laois and holds an M.Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin.