New Poetry, Fiction, Essay

Maeve O’Sullivan Featured Poet: review of her new collection, Elsewhere, by Shirley Bell, along with 4 poems from the collection.

Elsewhere, around the world in poetry, haiku & haibun, Maeve O’Sullivan, Alba Publishing, ISBN 9781910185773, Paperback. 110pp, Publication: November 2017, €12 / £10 / $15


One of Maeve O’Sullivan’s aims it to take haikai (haiku and related forms) out of what she describes in the preface “as the quasi-ghetto” it occupies “in the wider poetic world”. So, alongside other poetic forms, the reader is introduced to the forms and structures of the haikai world, as well as to a geographical journey to 13 countries and across 4 continents, travelling from Dublin to Europe, South America, the Indian sub-continent and back to Dublin in her reflective Envoi. It is also a journey through grief and the loss of her parents and sister (and friend).


Maeve O’Sullivan uses haiku, haibun and other poetic forms (see the definitions at the end*).  She displays her virtuosity in the opening poems, in the section  I  Home. The haibun, Apples and Oranges, succinctly displays in prose the mores of a whole society, illustrated first by the nun’s dismissal of the 11 year old poet as a result of her faux pas in eating an orange in public, followed by the inundation of the child in “first assembly  a sea of green gabardine”. Manicure  is a beautiful sestina* which contains all the grief and pain of the gradual loss of her mother in the cool repetition of line endings. Then Dun Laoghiare, in which , with sharp immediacy, we see how the train “snakes into gorse”.


In haibun, the discipline of haiku amongst the prose with its intense descriptive power can be seen in Closure, for example, where amongst the details in the prose, there is the sudden:

her bony back

against my palm –

Mother’s Day

O’Sullivan has great skill in providing the sudden illumination, the turn of meaning in haiku:

somewhere a murmuration is missing you   lone starling


In II West, the poet is excellent at capturing all the senses stimulated by place and pilgrimage (see Gijón – Asturias – reproduced below) and in Slow Camino, the instant recognition of the scent of roadside fennel…the squealing of pigs from a truck  or in Southern California:

 scent of a lemon    just released from its tree

and there is a specific gift of capturing unforgettable images – which cannot be unseen!

Botero’s bronze nudes:

                        their eyes identical

                        to their nipples




Printed below in the poem  Peregrina (wanderer) the poet has the pilgrim’s symbolic shell as she journeys to Santiago de compostela; here she uses rhyme to set the jaunty pace toward the final destination. However, this too is part of the serious journeying of the collection, which is in itself also a pilgrimage.



 In III  East, she meets up with family in Australia where in the haibun  Resettled, with more wry amusement, she sees:

in the neighbour’s tree

                        overlooking our reunion

                        a fake koala

The relaxed prose brings her back to family connections to the 1911 census, where her grandfather’s signature is, in another contrasting haiku nugget so like mother’s.  It is difficult to see how this sort of anecdotal prose could sit so easily with poetry in another form so the haibun is put to  particularly successful in this collection with its series of diary like pieces.



The journeys she has taken are encapsulated in this poetry, experiences moulded like the green rice cakes in Japan’s A Slice of Autumn where “hundreds of tame deer roam” bowing their heads to the visitors “who feed them with special crackers sold at shops and stalls nearby”.  She contrasts this gentle image with Hong Kong where “no bird ever sings in these cages” and New Delhi with a peacock strutting through a junkyard and the

                        narrow laneway

                        pictures of various gods

                        at pissing level

And the sense of a pilgrimage continues in New Year at Rumtek Monastery,  printed below, where the the rhyme and rhythm which create the form of the poem are  intricately bound up with the sacred dance.


The journeying ends in Envoi: Back Home. Like every traveller she is both changed and the same, and as in Settling


the watch that’s travelled

and the one that hasn’t

both tell the same time


But this is not to say that it has been a static experience. Her opening quotation from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets  is a perfect summary of what an experience like this one should be, and from the evidence of this collection, has been :


We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.




*Summarised from Wikipedia:

Haiku – a very short form of Japanese poetry. It is typically characterized by three qualities:

  1. The essence of haiku is “cutting”. This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji (“cutting word”) between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colours the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.
  2. Traditional haiku consist of 17 on (also known as morae though often loosely translated as “syllables”), in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 on, respectively.(An alternative form of haiku consists of 11 on in three phrases of 3, 5, and 3 on, respectively.)
  3. A kigo (seasonal reference), usually drawn from a saijiki, an extensive but defined list of such terms.


Haibun originating in Japan, combining prose and haiku. The range of haibun is broad and frequently includes autobiography, diary, essay, prose poem, short story and travel journal.


** Summarised from Wikipedia:

Sestina: a form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, normally followed by a three-line envoi. The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas.




Dubliner Maeve O’Sullivan’s poetry and haiku have been widely published and anthologised. She is the author of three collections from Alba Publishing (UK): Initial Response (2011), Vocal Chords (2014) and A Train Hurtles West (2015). A fourth travel-themed collection, Elsewhere, is forthcoming from Alba in November 2017. Maeve is a founder member of Haiku Ireland and the Hibernian Poetry Workshop. Twitter: @writefromwithin










I’ve got my stick, I’ve got my shell,

all set for valley and for ridge.

It feels good to be ready, well

enough to make this pilgrimage.

The native oak too soon gives way

to eucalyptus trees, and pine,

from Morgade to Palas de Rei

with birdsong, though, remaining fine.

At Arzúa the rosary’s said

while on the street I drink latte

and later on some wine and bread

I share with new friends quiet, chatty.

Soon Santiago looms in view –

the goal of pilgrims, old and new.





New Year at Rumtek Monastery


We hike an hour to reach this special place

to see first-hand the sacred lama dance.

For ten full hours they never slacken pace

as one by one we’re drawn into their trance.


Sustained by snacks, free cups of butter tea,

we marvel at the costumes and the hats,

the players of the horns, the drums, uzmi,

their masks adorned with multi-coloured plaits.


A special day, Aquarius new moon,

of this pure spectacle we never tire;

with Losar, the Tibetan New Year, soon,

they toss the wrathful god into the fire.


Because of this auspicious conflagration,

we’re free next year from every obscuration.



Note:  The uzme is the lead chanter at Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremonies.



Magnus’s Digit


You’ve cast your finger aside

where the freesias are fading,

the wisteria is wilting,

and the roses are in full bloom.


It sits on the garden’s stone table,

next to the candle in the jam jar,

but is this unfired phallus

of clay a thumb or a middle?


Either way, it’s your gift to us,

left behind in this old farmhouse.

Our projects trundle on, while yours

hitches us onto each new breakfast.


It wasn’t too ambitious but, in truth,

there’s been a fair bit of partying,

with your crowd supplying the soap

bubbles, the glitter and the guitar strings.


We miss the trundle of your skateboards

on the tiles, and the handmade dream-

catchers, not so much the piano

practice or the overflowing ashtrays.


But, as well as being back in Oslo,

you’re still here, in a way,

your legacy a daily message

of Well done! or even Up yours!




Gijón, Asturias, a haiku sequence



orientation stroll…

the first sound

a seagull’s cry




beneath the café’s din

of TV and chatter –

his song




the peacock shakes

his bridal feathers –

city park cage




hilly headland

its giant sculpture

amplifying the sea





artist’s former home      its triple-locked steel door





after a week of sharing       a pas de deux in the kitchen




rainy evening –

pouring cider from a height

to drink in one gulp





This is the publisher’s introduction to the book launch, which took place on Thursday 23rd November: –









20th November 2017


Elsewhere, the new collection of poetry from Dublin poet Maeve O’Sullivan, published by Alba Publishing (UK), will be launched in the Teachers’ Club in Dublin on Thursday 23rd November by poet, playwright and former All-Ireland Chair of Poetry Paula Meehan.


The collection, O’Sullivan’s fourth, is mostly inspired by a yearlong worldwide trip in 2016-17, and is arranged in four sections: Home, West, East and Back Home. Elsewhere contains long-form poetry, haiku and haibun, a form which combines prose and haiku. The book is dedicated to the poet’s sister Jean O’Sullivan, who died of cancer in September, and 30% of the profits will go to the environmental campaigning organisation Friends of the Earth Ireland.


Maeve O’Sullivan works in further education in Dublin. Over the last twenty years, her poems have been widely published, anthologized and awarded, and her haiku have been translated into ten languages. Her previous collections are Initial Response (haiku, 2011), Vocal Chords (poetry, 2014) and A Train Hurtles West (haiku, 2015). All three were published by Alba Publishing and have been well-received by readers and critics alike.  Maeve O’Sullivan is a founder of Haiku Ireland, and also a long-standing member of the British Haiku Society. She is also a founder of the Hibernian Poetry Workshop and performs with the Poetry Divas collective of women poets.


Elsewhere is currently available to buy from Books Upstairs and The Winding Stair in Dublin. It is also available directly from [email protected], and from the author (Twitter @writefromwithin).


 Praise for Elsewhere:


‘Starting in Dublin, the lively Maeve O’Sullivan circles the globe. With evocative haiku and prose, and deft exercises in other forms, she shares a journey full of excitement and delight that will enthrall the reader.’

David Burleigh, haiku poet and translator


‘Elsewhere is filled with laughter, light and even a few dance steps; perfected by a compelling undertone of probing reflection and keen observation—leaving the reader slightly out of breath, mesmerized, and thoroughly satisfied.’

Caroline Skanne, editor  of hedgerow, a journal of short forms.


O’Sullivan’s Elsewhere will resonate with all who love journeying. A master of traditional form, she is also an accomplished haijin whose haiku, senryu and haibun invite the reader to savour intense moments of contemplation.


Breda Wall Ryan, poet and critic


Upcoming readings:


Wednesday 13th December 2017 at 630pm in Rathmines Library, with fellow poets Amanda Bell and Maurice Devitt, and fiddler Bernadette NicGabhann).


Wednesday 17th January 2018 at 630pm in Inchicore Library, with fellow poet Anne Tannam (travel theme with an open mic section).





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