Poetry’s first impulse is lyrical. John O’Donnell’s poetry is lyrical and his poetry also combines narrative and dramatic qualities in both his private and public poems. Lyric, narrative and dramatic qualities are found in ‘Volpi’ the prose poem that opens this book, Sunlight, O’Donnell’s New and Selected. It seems right that in this poem O’Donnell brings his reader back to a time and place when his imagination was stirred by an eccentric teacher. With admirable, unsettling honesty, O’Donnell paints a vivid portrait of insensitive, cruel adolescents but also reminds us of the ‘glamour’ and the ‘danger’ of invention and creativity. Here, O’Donnell is on high alert and, again and again, the occasions that have prompted the poems in this collection begin with a disciplined observation that leads to insight, understanding. And, as with all poetry, how something is said is more important than what is being said …
—Niall MacMonagle, from the Introduction
The tone is often moral and high-minded but never didactic or sanctimonious. O’Donnell’s ability to make connections with the lessons of history makes this poetry memorable.
— Mary O’Donnell, Poetry Ireland Review
The Shipping Forecast
for my father
Tied up at the pier in darkened harbour
the two of us below, the cabin’s amber
light; me surly in a sleeping-bag, fifteen,
and you, past midnight, calmly tuning in
to the Shipping Forecast, long wave’s
crackle, hiss, until you find the voice.
What’s next for us: rain or fair? There are
warnings of gales in Rockall and Finisterre.
So near now, just this teak bulkhead
between us, and yet so apart, battened
hatches as another low approaches, the high
over the Azores as distant as a man is from a boy.
I think of my own boat one day, the deep.
Beside me the sea snores, turns over in its sleep.