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The State of the Prisons
Categories: 21st Century, Irish, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (63 pages)
(Pub. Apr 2005)
One day, China met China in the marketplace.
'How are you, China?' asked China, 'we haven't talked in so long.'
China answered: 'The things we have to say to one another,
laid end to end, and side to side,
would connect the Great Wall with the Three Gorges Valley
and stretch nine miles up towards the sun.'
'It's true,' replied China. 'We have a lot to catch up on.'
In her third book of poems, Sinéad Morrissey builds on the achievement of her award-winning collection, Between Here and There, by expanding the lyric into new territories and admitting new voices. The theme of imprisonment is variously addressed: in the actual prisons of eighteenth-century Europe; in the prison of our own limited perceptions of experience, particularly of other cultures when abroad; in the prison of the mortal human body itself.
Alongside the intimate interiors of human relationships, the poems are also interested in broader discourses, particularly history, and range in scope from the Royalist convictions of a woman wearing a Scold's Bridle during England's interregnum, to the story of the number zero. Form and content, as well as the personal and the political, are blended throughout this collection with imagination and consummate skill. As in her previous two books, travel remains a source of inspiration: one exhilarating poem details, in nine 'chapters', a six-thousand-mile train journey across China in which the conflicting faces of a rapidly changing country jostle for space. The collection ends with a compelling act of ventriloquism, as Morrissey recounts, in the first person, the life and works of the great prison reformer John Howard, and details his vision for the moral regeneration of the corrupted human soul.
The Second Lesson of the Anatomists
Little House in the Big Woods
The Gobi from Air
On Omitting the Word 'Just' from my Vocabulary
Reading the Greats
In Praise of Salt
The Wound Man
Aunt Sarah's Cupboards and Drawers
Driving Alone on a Snowy Evening
The Yellow Emperor's Classic
The State of the Prisons
Awards won by Sinead Morrissey Winner, 2020 The Gdansk European Poet of Freedom Literary Award (On Balance) Winner, 2017 The Forward Prize for Best Collection (On Balance) Winner, 2017 Poetry Book Society Choice (On Balance) Short-listed, 2017 The Costa Poetry Award (On Balance) Short-listed, 2018 The Pigott Poetry Prize
(On Balance) Short-listed, 2018 The 2018 Roehampton Poetry Prize
(On Balance) Winner, 2009 T.S Eliot Prize
(The State of the Prisons) Winner, 2014 Irish Times Poetry Now Award
(Parallax) Winner, 2013 T S Eliot Prize for Poetry (Parallax) Short-listed, 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection (Parallax) Joint winner, 2005 Michael Hartnett Award for Poetry
(The State of the Prisons) Short-listed, 2005 T.S. Eliot Prize
(The State of the Prisons) Winner, 2002 Rupert and Eithne Strong Award
(Between Here and There) Winner, 2002 MaCaulay Fellowship
Short-listed, 2002 T.S. Eliot Prize
(Between Here and There) Winner, 1996 An Eric Gregory Award
(There Was Fire In Vancouver) Winner, 1990 Patrick Kavanagh Award Short-listed, 2005 Irish Times Poetry Prize
(The State of the Prisons) Short-listed, 2005 John Llewellyn Rhys Commonwealth Literature Prize
(The State of the Prisons) Winner, 2005 Poetry Book Society Recommendation
(The State of the Prisons) Winner, 2007 Lannan Literary Fellowship
Winner, 2009 Poetry Book Society Choice
(Through the Square Window)
Praise for Sinead Morrissey 'Morrissey's telling of ... life is beautifully done, with no sentimentality or mawkishness [...] A brilliant book.'
The High Window
'stunning, accessible poems'
Damian Smyth, Belfast Telegraph
'On Balance demonstrates that poems, far from being an obsolete technology, were never just mnemonic machines in the first place: they were always simply the perfect instrument for human voices, both living and (un)dead.'
Ange Mlinko, LRB
'Propulsive, compelling, melding narrative and lyric, Morrissey's poetry combines deep feeling with a probing, philosophical intelligence.'
The Poetry Review
'Northern Irish poetry looks like it's about to take centre stage again, and the woman leading the charge is Sinead Morrissey.'
Cork Evening Echo Best Books of 2017
'A game-changing volume of poems in her shining career.'
Damian Smyth, Head of Drama and Literature at Arts Council Northern Ireland, Belfast Telegraph
An Irish Times Book of the Year 2017 'Sinead Morrissey's On Balance is a book of poetry that embraces the art of fiction, and that makes you think about the world being off kilter, of suspension, of what might be required to have balance. Amazing. And the deserving winner of the Forward Prize this year.'
Scottish Makar Jackie Kay, Herald Scotland Books of the Year 2017
'Sinead Morrissey's On Balance was a worthy winner of the 2017 Forward Prize. A celebration of resourcefulness, from motherhood to the first woman to build an aeroplane, its language is as poised as the acrobats it catches.'
Jeremy Noel-Tod, from the Sunday Times Book of the Year 2017 'The poem Nativity, if it stood alone, makes Sinead Morrissey's On Balance a sweet Christmas choice, but it is only one of a number of thought-provoking poems in her sixth, prize-winning collection. Morrissey floats the reader glimpses of desires unmet, memories still fluid; the stories swim beyond the edge of the page, buoyed up by possibility.'
Hilary Mantel, from the Guardian 'Books of the Year' 2017
'I've always leaned on poetry as something more thrilling than...well, almost anything - religion, for instance. The older I get, the more essential poetry seems and, alas, the converse for the latter. Two books from this year give further proof of this: Sinéad Morrissey's starry poetic engineering in On Balance (Carcanet) and Michael Longley's angelic Angel Hill (Jonathan Cape), which was also proof, maybe, that Homer never died. Northern Ireland's poets continue to outstare miserable politics and offer instead the better firearms of beauty and truth.'
Sebastian Barry, from the New Statesman 'Books of the Year 2017'
'Poet Sinéad Morrissey gains power with each collection. She's one of those generous writers whose images and structures open so invitingly that your response is to grab a pen and write back to her: in other words, an inspiration.'
Hilary Mantel, from the TLS 'Books of the Year 2017' 'I can't not mention Sinéad Morrissey - a wide-ranging, capacious, brilliant and entirely satisfying collection of poems that will be read many decades hence.'
Andrew Marr, from the New Statesman 'Books of the Year 2017'
'Morrissey is possessed of her own invigorating brand of Irish fluency and an imagination that never closes.'
Kate Kellaway, Guardian
'Morrissey's clarity and confidence mean that On Balance approaches each of her subjects with great fluency and command.'
The Irish Times
'The outstanding poet of her generation.'
Stephen Knight, Independent 'In a year of brilliantly themed collections, the judges were unanimous in choosing Sinéad Morrissey's Parallax as the winner. Politically, historically and personally ambitious, expressed in beautifully turned language, her book is as many-angled and any-angled as its title suggests.'
Ian Duhig, Chair of the 2013 T S Eliot Prize Judges
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