On the Death of Maurice Scully

6th March 2023

The Board, Director and Staff of Poetry Ireland wish to express their deepest sympathy with the Scully family on the death of Maurice Scully. A gifted and acclaimed poet, his published collections include Love Poems & Others, (Raven Arts Press, 1981), Doing the Same in English (Dedalus Press, 2009), Several Dances (Shearsman Books, 2014), Things That Happen (Shearsman, 2020), Airs (Shearsman Books, 2022)  and Game On (hardPressed Poets) with Jordi Valls Pozo in 2019. Regarded as one of the foremost modernists of his generation, his playful, experimental approach to his art was recognised and rewarded by his peers with his election to Aosdána in 2009.

Professor Philip Coleman of the School of English, Trinity College Dublin remembered Maurice today with the following words:   

"In “Piece for viola,” from his first collection Love Poems & Others, Maurice Scully’s speaker exclaims: 

    What a world!

    Everything with its own flickeringly private pattern….

From that first book, published by Raven Arts Press in 1981, through to Airs, published by Shearsman Books to mark his seventieth birthday in 2022, Maurice Scully’s work celebrates the world in its everyday ordinariness. The title of his multi-volume magnum opus, Things That Happen (2020), summarises the poet’s constant desire not just to record but to illuminate the “flickeringly private pattern” that makes a life. Things That Happen belongs to a great tradition of long poems that meditate on the unfolding mysteries of quotidian experience, from William Wordsworth’s The Prelude to William Carlos Williams’s Paterson. It is without question the most significant early twenty-first century Irish contribution to the development of longer poetic forms, a work that rewards every re-reading.

Here are some lines from “The Pale Blue Jotter,” a section of “Zulu Dynamite,” also included in Livelihood (2004), before finding its proper place in Things That Happen:


    & dandelion had begun to bloom

    & bent down

    & picked them

    & looked at the day’s eye

    the sun

    the dent de lyon

    garish & blunt

    world vigorous & explicit

    seven teeth

tipping each brilliant petal

& was greatly pleased 

to be alive

& to continue to be.

Reading these lines, we are in the company of a poet for whom image and sound are constantly in play. Words are allowed to spark off each other in ways that allow further associations and suggestions to come to light as the poet repeats these and other phrases throughout the larger work, detail building on detail until the poem almost overflows the pages upon which it is written:

    I fill my bucket right up.

    It almost overflows

    hearing that music

    seeing the very

    black & white of the 

    inside of my notebooks.

Always conscious of the material, social and, indeed, domestic conditions of writing, Scully’s work also “overflows” the apparent simplicity of its diction. His attraction to “the basic colours” of things and language, things in language, is profound, deeply felt, far-reaching. The Basic Colours, another part of Livelihood, bears a subtitle: A Watchman’s Log. Scully was one of our most constant watchmen, keeping an eye on and out for the things most of us don’t notice, late at night or early in the morning, whether we are awake or not.

Maurice Scully was, as Thomas Hardy put it in “Afterwards,” “a man who used to notice such things”: things such as the “seven teeth” of the flower, the “intricate mist / building on the windowpane”, the “tearshaped appleseed / moist     mahogany”. Now that he has left us, wherever he has gone – it is hard to think of him as gone – these and the many other images recorded in his large body of work remain, inviting us to see and hear the world afresh, to dip in and dive down, to discover the vision and hear the music of this unique, original poet, again and again:

                as each leaf in its 

individual glow-sphere falls (this is that poetry

thing going on again isn’t it) falls & dances on

    the blown bright grass below."