“Love, loss, memory, history, place are familiar preoccupations in John O’Donnell’s work; and, though poetry’s subject matter may be similar, a unique voice explores these themes in unique ways. The poems take us to very different places: Shakespeare in Ireland, the Holocaust, pioneering in Oregon, a grandmother’s Alzheimer’s. Here is a poet who searches for truth, and whether O’Donnell is remembering “me, surly in a sleeping-bag, fifteen” or the Omagh atrocity, the voice is always direct and honest, while capturing the close-up and personal with a wonderful fluency. O’Donnell’s poetry explores the steady and steadying presence of love within a family context but it also gives us the bigger picture, pictures of injustice, turmoil, ‘the unfathomable’ and what O’Donnell calls ‘a deep darker than ink’. Turn to these enriching and engaging poems in Sunlight: New and Selected Poems; the poems will turn to you. And you will be rewarded.”
—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
O’Donnell’s work is frequently concerned with the “also-rans”, the loved others, the unnoticed, the lost; and the open, almost jaunty tone of many of these poems belies their serious intent, a vision of the world often tinged with tragedy, as in the powerful The Breaststroke among his newer poems, or Kola’s Shop from his 2002 collection, Some Other Country, which describes the plight of an African immigrant subject to racist attacks. One of the subtler pleasures of this book is the skill with which O’Donnell handles the technical aspects of his work, the adroit but unshowy way in which meter and phrasing are managed.
— Caitríona O’Reilly, The Irish Times
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.