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Samhain - Waterloo Sampler No. 3 (2004)



John McKeown Sea of Leaves (2009)


ISBN 978-1-906742-08-9


At one with the ancient forces of nature, but an awkward, reluctant participant in 21st Century consumerism, the Dublin-based bard’s quill is still at it’s most fluid when writing of the complexities of the female race. Once again he has transcended his own quiet genius in a way deserving of higher honour
James Scanlon, The Prague Post

Sea of Leaves is the first full volume from John McKeown, after three small but galvanic splashes in pamphlet-form. Here for the first time is the full force of his oeuvre collected in one startling book. Liverpool-born but writing in his adopted Ireland, McKeown’s crystal-sharp lyricism is
suffused with a Celtic craving, ‘an unspeakable, loaded subtlety’ (‘Tokaji’). He bravely tackles the anomie of modern male identity, a sphere where few poets dare to tread. But there is something richly ancient in these ‘aural old runes of desire’, like the banshee-bawls of gulls ‘out of the
green dark past’ (‘Gulled’). Christ is an aloof cormorant stood on the sea, ‘not even remotely/ proffering the keys/ to any kingdom’ (‘Cormorant’).

The image-rich lyrical salience of these poems ensures McKeown’s voice, scraped by chafing scepticism, only inspires as it hisses off the page. The brooding nostalgia of a lost childhood realm where ‘suns never quite set’ (‘Gronant’) and they ‘raced in the inexhaustible’ (‘Olympian’), provides a phantasmal backdrop to adulthood’s ‘rain-washed, wild, calamitous sky’ (‘Suburbia’), where ‘the stars are pitiless’ (‘Last Chances’) and our role is as ‘twisted songbirds/ here to amuse the gods’ (‘Canary’). But McKeown does not proffer lotuses: ‘embassies of ultimate forgetting’ (‘Diplomacy’) are not needed when, through a saturnine Romanticism, we are re-woken to searing beauties in light that ‘blooms’ like a ‘luminous flower/ humming with the movement/ of how all life happened long ago’ (‘Twilight’), and sky ‘all gently rustling light’ (‘Roadside Trees’).

This collection shimmers in the mind long after reading,
like a casket of dark sparkling emeralds.


Born in Liverpool in 1959, John McKeown graduated from John Moore’s University in 1987 with an Honours Degree in English and History. He lived in Prague for several years as a teacher and freelance journalist before moving to Ireland in 2000, where he was a columnist for the Irish Examiner, and arts feature writer for the Irish Times. He was theatre critic for the Irish Daily Mail from 2006 to 2008 and is currently reviewing theatre for the Irish Independent and raising his daughter Julia. He lives and writes in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin.

His poems have appeared in Orbis, The Eildon Tree, Dreamcatcher, Aerings, Earth Love, Envoi, Borderlines, The London Magazine, and Irish-based journals Cyphers, The Shop, and Southword. He was winner of the Start Chapbook Prize (Ireland) in 2004 for his cycle of poems Looking Toward Inis Oírr.

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