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Giving Shape to the Moment

The Art of Mary O'Donnell: Poet, Novelist and Short Story Writer

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Edited By Maria Elena Jaime de Pablos

This is the first book to provide a critical assessment of the work of the Irish author Mary O’Donnell. The essays collected here engage with O’Donnell’s writing across multiple genres and explore the themes and preoccupations that have characterized her oeuvre. Alongside her creative work, O’Donnell’s has been a steady and continuing voice for many years within the world of theatre criticism, book reviewing, essay writing, radio broadcasts and cultural commentary.

As a writer, O’Donnell’s principal themes include contemporary Irish society, the position of women in Ireland and the role of the artist. Throughout her career, her approach has been unconventional and her work has sometimes presented a challenge to the status quo. The contributors to this volume illuminate O’Donnell’s role as a humanist writer searching for truth at all costs, through the fictive lives of her often unusual characters, and through the emotional range and depth of her poetry.

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3 Gathering ‘Word-Hoards’ into ‘Noah’s Ark’: The Poetry of Mary O’Donnell (Pilar Villar-Argáiz)

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PILAR VILLAR-ARGÁIZ

3   Gathering ‘Word-Hoards’ into ‘Noah’s Ark’: The Poetry of Mary O’Donnell

A General Overview of Mary O’Donnell’s Poetic Production

Summarizing Mary O’Donnell’s concerns in her poetry is a difficult project, given her prolific career as a writer and the wide scope of her oeuvre. However, it is possible to identify a number of themes and motifs which have remained constant throughout her poetic career, from her first collection of poetry, published in 1990, to her latest 2015 volume. Before analysing these themes in detail, I will provide a brief, and necessarily simplified, overview of O’Donnell’s poems by summarizing the most salient and idiosyncratic features of each collection of poetry.1

Like many women poets of her generation, Mary O’Donnell has had to overcome many obstacles in order to be published in the male-dominated Irish literary scene. As she has claimed in her essay ‘An Overview of the Journey from Imagination into Print’ (2009a: 155–6), Irish women poets have been forced to learn their craft ‘in a well of silence’ and have been confined, if they were published at all, to a subgenre as a ‘separate species’. O’Donnell’s first collection, Reading the Sunflowers in September (1990), is particularly marked by these difficulties experienced in her early years as a poet in Ireland, a female writer working in a field which has been remarkably androcentric. This collection contains a series of poems with outspoken feminist tendencies. In...

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