The most remarkable thing about this most remarkable book is the way it is rooted in a precise and specific territory: the tip of the Beara Peninsula. This is the heartland of the universe for Leanne O’Sullivan, the ground where she stands to channel the power of poetry and place, to fuse these energies into precise and beautifully crafted lyric poems.
Leanne draws on a tradition of relationship with the land that reaches right back to the bronze age and the earliest copper mining. She tunnels, in a sense, back through the layers of history and folklore that accrete about a landscape — an outer journey mirrored by that inner journey which is the mining into the deepest reach of selfhood.
I am reminded of the ancient triple goddess Brigde, or as she is known in her Christian guise, Brigid. Brigid was the guardian protector of eloquence and poetry, wells and healing, and mining and smithcraft. When I read in this book I hear anvil music, I stand by the fertile crucible of making, I taste pure water from the well of healing. This is the tradition Leanne has inherited, and we are blessed, if we choose, in the comfort and relief these poems have to offer us.
Michael Hartnett talks of the central wound in the Irish psyche as the memory of a mother rape we can not face in our boardrooms of mock oak. Hartnett had the Irish language in mind, but he might equally have been speaking of the land of Ireland itself. There is, right through the poetic tradition, a strand of thought that says the land has somehow failed us, failed to nourish us. It may well be that subconsciously or otherwise, millions who have emigrated have this in their minds, the wound of having been failed. There is another way to think of this: perhaps after all we should consider not only those who have been failed but those millions, generation after generation, who have been nourished and borne up by the land. Perhaps it is time to heal the great wound, the wound in the imagination — then we might begin to nurture the land, to care for our own place, to give back in gratitude what is due, to be at home in the world.
I think Leanne’s poetry has a part to play in that restoration. A part to play in a change of mind and heart. A new kind of Dinndseanchas, a story that seeks to sing back to us the song of the place, the place where the heart can have ease and the mind wholeness.
Leanne O’Sullivan is a carrier of story. I believe the story chooses its teller. Some stories remain untold for generations waiting for the right soul to carry them out into the light. ‘Safe House’ is one such story. To hear that story we need to trust the teller as well as the tale.
From the very moment I first heard Leanne O’Sullivan’s voice, at an event many years ago in Schull not long after her first book was published, I trusted her completely. There is a quality to the voice – something that can’t be faked. In a word, integrity. And that is why I trust what she tells me of the world I live in.
If the heartland is in West Cork the hinterland is nothing less than this world we share. These poems manage to belong, with great immediacy and great lyric power, to both the local moment, its landscape and its community, and to the global moment, to the eternal verities, the universality of woundedness, of loss, of enduring love.
Wherever we are on the face of the earth we are bound in common humanity. And this is the book’s adventure: the universal quest to be at home in our skin, to find kin and kinship in a given place, and to experience the solace and healing that the very land herself can offer us.
Please join me in welcoming this new and wonderful book into the world.