Poet Laureate: Mary O’Donnell

Mary O’Donnell is the Poet Laureate for Naas, Co Kildare. She lives near Straffan, Co Kildare, so is a very frequent visitor to the county town of Naas.

“What a huge honour to be part of Poetry Ireland's Poetry Town all-island project and Laureate for Naas,” she says. “Being commissioned to write for and about this ancient yet very buzzy modern county town is a responsibility. But this is what Laureates do, I tell myself, they rise up, get a feel for a time and a place and pull together the preciousness of that experience.

“I anticipate diversity, a spirit of exploration and some craic when meeting workshop participants, and look forward to working with Kildare's talented Arts Officer Lucina Russell.  I come to the task in a spirit of possibility, offering my gifts as a poet, but humbly. Go raibh maith agat, Nás-na-Rí, for the call to poetry!”

Mary’s bio

Mary O’Donnell is a poet, short-story writer, and novelist. She has published eight collections of poetry, including Unlegendary Heroes, Those April Fevers, and most recently Massacre of the Birds. Novels include The Light-MakersThe Elysium Testament, and Where They Lie.

She co-edited (with Manuela Palacios) the anthology of Galician Women’s poetry, To the Winds Our Sails. A collection of essays on O’Donnell’s work appeared during 2018: Giving Shape to the Moment: the Art of Mary O’Donnell, Poet, Novelist, Short-story Writer (Peter Lang), edited by Prof Elena Jaime de Pablos, with contributions from Spanish and Irish academics and writers. Since 2001, she has been a member of Ireland’s affiliation of artists, Aosdána.

Mary presented Naas’ Town Poem at a special online event on 10 September, which you can view here. The full poem can be read below.

Night Drive to the Harbour in Nás na Ríogh by Mary O'Donnell

After midnight, the engine snorts alive
and off he shudders in the Mitsubishi,
beneath a desert-toned full moon, up South
Main Street, past the Courthouse, an ivy-flanked
bank, stone pillars. Near him on the car seat,
a plastic box of cinders, what remains,
the scraped timbers of a beloved place.

Outside a club, footpaths tilt with the county’s
young, their shouts and laughter. He stares beyond
the windscreen, the car noses into Basin Street
towards the still canal, with granite walls
like the stone laid around his old garden,
once crammed with lilies. Before the worst.
Before a bitter night in Damascus.

He crouches now, hands cupping the water
carefully, his face an ink-blue watermark,
as he offers to the harbour the ashes
of his old life. He trusts in this town,
its dark canal, feels himself open
like a ripe fig in sweet air, beneath soft blankets
of sky. Cinders fall to water, the dead seeds
of ancestral Sumerian dreams drift
near pondweed, bogbean, then float free.
Tender old kings watch him from the lock.