Ireland. Night. A grotto to the Virgin Mary illuminates a deserted road. Overhead, the soundless roar of the Milky Way’s glittering traffic reminds us of a past that runs parallel to our own uncertain times. Olives ripen in a Portuguese valley. The sound of gunfire approaches a Paris café. Irish women revolutionaries march towards their future. Tigers prowl through County Leitrim's rural townlands, whose old names emerge like neon signposts from the dark: Red Marsh, Small Watery Place, Round Hill of the Boys.
Róisín Kelly’s Mercy is an attempt to reconcile her Catholic background with her pagan heritage, transcending the limits of a world in which everything is connected. Both intimate and political, this powerful debut collection combines a passionate exploration of self with an awestruck confrontation of wilderness.
Róisín Kelly was born in west Belfast, raised in Leitrim, and now lives in Cork. Her pamphlet Rapture (Southword, 2016) was described by Leanne O’Sullivan as ‘fierce and mysterious, beautiful and compelling’.
'Kelly returns to women’s lives recent and distant, working poetically to perceive and explore the past. Her debut... provides a compelling and provocative account of the workings of time' - Erin Cunningham, Times Literary Supplement
‘By any standard, Róisín Kelly’s Mercy is an impressive debut. It’s a collection that one needs to savour slowly and to which one can return with increasing pleasure. The language has cadence and focus. The images are burnished. She is, by turns, visionary, savvy and passionate. It will be fascinating, in the years ahead, to see where her poetry takes her.’ - David Cooke, London Grip
'Although these poems deal with self and identity, Kelly is a poet alive to the wider world of today, and a poet who refuses to create a polite or easy disconnect between the worlds of past and the present... Kelly is a fearless poet, whose innovative use of the lyric form refreshes a tradition in danger of becoming moribund in Ireland.' - Jessica Traynor, Poetry Ireland Review [on Mercy]
'The intersection of the personal and the political comes to the fore in Mercy, the first collection from Róisín Kelly. The collection merges a range of mythologies to explore Kelly’s sense of identity and heritage... Kelly speaks of a capacity to take elements of various traditions and weave them together into a new identity which is at once deeply empowering and deeply feminine' - Elizabeth Ridout, Agenda
‘I first came across Róisín Kelly and her work at the Cork International Poetry Festival few years ago, and was struck by the composure, poise and precision of her reading, and also by the intensity, depth and luminescence of her poems. They succeed in being both intimate and personal – as in ‘A Massage Room in West Cork’, but also undoubtedly political, like in ‘Mary Anne MacLeod’. - Victoria Kennefick, Unlaunched Books podcast [on Mercy]
‘Mercy was for me a kind of lamplit and starlit exploration of self and wilderness, utterly glorious in its haunted depictions of the human body and the physical landscape.’ - Annemarie Ní Churreáin, introducing Róisín Kelly at the live podcast event for Cuirt International Festival of Literature.
‘These are expansive poems, rich in pictures and space, frequently evocative of places the reader might also hold dear ‘like a jam of clotted green memories’ (‘Mar-a-Lago’)… Her delicate patterning of rhyme, controlling carefully the full and the half, offers a shape and texture to these poems which makes reading, and re-reading, a great joy.’ - Beth McDonough, DURA (Dundee University Review of the Arts), on Mercy
'Kelly brings her Gravesian language ambitiously to bear on more obviously historical and significant events. Her focus on gender and injustice complicates the profusion of images of the natural world.' – John McAuliffe, The Irish Times [on Mercy]
'The Irish-ness of the poet and the European-ness of the poet are two strong threads running through the collection. Of course, such identities can never be disparate, with each hermetically sealed off from the other, and so it is here: each identity interweaves with the other… This is a fine collection.' - Sheila Hamilton, The High Window [on Mercy]
'In poems of love and loss…Róisín Kelly sets out to re-energise and play with classic tropes such as roses and constellations... her most ambitious poems address history and politics.' - Jane Routh, Magma [on Mercy]
'Róisín Kelly hauls the mythological up into the contemporary world in this fiercely tender collection. Love and loss are laid bare again and again under constellations new and old, in skies above Greece, Portugal, America, France, and Ireland. Kelly’s intelligence and wisdom ignite each of these poems, whether funeral pyre or beacon in the dark light. Mercy burns with ruthless beauty.' -- Zsuzsi Gartner, author of Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
Praise for Rapture:
‘What is striking about Kelly’s writing is that she intentionally situates herself within Ireland’s literary tradition, frequently drawing on Yeatsian images like the rose. She is unswerving, however, in her desire to draw romance and realism together, and Kelly revives the symbols of old so that they might be re-spoken in a brazen, drunken voice… Kelly’s poetry is at once tender and savage, steeped in tradition yet brave in expression – she takes readers where they don’t want to go, a feat that most writers attempt, but few achieve.’ – James O’Sullivan, Los Angeles Review of Books
'This brief collection shows remarkable emotional range. Kelly leaves the reader afloat on a tide of colour.’ – Alison Brackenbury, PN Review
‘Unafraid of sentiment, these twenty poems meditate on lost love, longing, and the tendency of intimacy to arrive as an utter surprise, and dissolve just as swiftly.’ – Grace Wilentz, Poetry Ireland Review
Róisín Kelly reads from Mercy
Róisín Kelly reads and introduces four poems from Mercy, 'Mars in Retrograde', 'Tuam', 'Chameleon' and 'Tigers in Leitrim’’, filmed by Neil Astley in Galway in April 2019.
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