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Gail McConnell and Stephen Sexton – 25 October

25th October 2021 @ 19:30 - 21:00 BST


To kick off the 2021 ILS season and welcome everyone back to physically present meetings we are delighted to be at the Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith to give a London launch to two new poetry volumes from Stephen Sexton and Gail McConnell. We’ll also be featuring the Irish Poets in the UK edition of the Agenda poetry magazine with a reading from John O’Donoghue.

Gail McConnell joins us to read from her new collection The Sun is Open (Penned in the Margins, 2021). Her book pieces through a boxed archive of public and private materials related to the life and death of her father, who was murdered by the IRA outside their Belfast home in 1984. Flitting between a child and adult self, this startling, innovative debut charts the experience of going through the box, as the poems attempt to decode the past and present, and piece together a history, and a life. Our President, Bernard O’Donoghue, comments: ‘She is now one of the crucial public writers.’

The Sun is Open employs a grammar in which everything is significant, from Wendy Houses, to the very hairs of your head, to the poetry of First Aid instructions, to slaters. This is meticulous and painstaking — sometimes pain-making work — making the words fit the columns, be they inches of newsprint or entries in an Account Book, negotiating or nudging the meanings into alternative senses.’ CIARAN CARSON


His pen is fantastical. Cheryl (of the title), tarot card clairvoyant, is conjured out of thin air. She flourishes alongside many other sleights of hand and vanishing acts: there is no knot Sexton cannot slip… many of his phrases are so good I wanted to steal them…Sexton makes the world bearable with poetry as his intercessor. KATE KELLAWAY, The Observer.

Stephen Sexton joins us to read from his new collection Cheryl’s Destinies (Penguin, 2021). It is the decade of centuries, and Cheryl tells us our fortune. Radicals liberate a zoo, teenagers flirt in a bowling alley, and the dead are cherished. In these inventive, playful, dream-like poems, Stephen Sexton takes us on a journey through the past and the present, while Cheryl translates from the future, showing us how we exist in all three at once. Reckoning with both public and private tragedies, the book is divided into three parts. In Part One, the poems range across old Europe: ‘Edelweiss’ and Titanic setting sail, to a transatlantic, cross-century symposium in Part Two, where two giants perfect their arts in collaboration. In Part Three we are back in the land where the past keeps breaking through, it’s practically always the anniversary of something terrible, but there’s always Cheryl in the moonlight and her deck of tarot cards. A thrillingly strange exploration of the comfort of the fantastical when the real is hard to bear, Cheryl’s Destinies is the enchanting follow-up to the Forward Prize for Best First Collection-winning If All the World and Love Were Young, by one of the most exciting young poets writing today.

The event will be followed by a sale and signing of books.

Speaker: Gail McConnell
Gail McConnell

Gail McConnell is a writer and critic from Belfast. She is the author of two poetry pamphlets: Fothermather (Ink Sweat & Tears, 2019) and Fourteen (Green Bottle Press, 2018). A programme based on Fothermather was produced by Conor Garrett for Radio 4 in 2020 and made available as a Seriously… podcast. Gail’s poems have appeared in Poetry Review, PN Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Blackbox Manifold and Stand, and she is the recipient of two awards from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. She is Senior Lecturer in English at Queen’s University Belfast and the author of Northern Irish Poetry and Theology (Palgrave, 2014). Gail’s writing interests include violence, creatureliness, queerness and the possibilities and politics of language and form.

Speaker: Stephen Sexton
Stephen Sexton

Stephen Sexton’s first book, If All the World and Love Were Young was the winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2019 and the Shine / Strong Award for Best First Collection. He was awarded the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 2020. He was the winner of the National Poetry Competition in 2016 and the recipient of an Eric Gregory Award in 2018. He teaches at the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Speaker: John O’Donoghue
John O'Donoghue

John O’Donoghue is the author of a memoir Sectioned: A Life Interrupted (John Murray 2009) which was awarded Mind Book Of The Year in 2010. His poetry collections include Letter To Lord Rochester (Waterloo Press, 2004); The Beach Generation (Pighog Press, 2007); and Brunch Poems (Waterloo Press, 2009). John lives in Brighton and teaches Creative Writing. He will be reading from his work in the ‘Irish Poets in the UK’ edition of Agenda.

Chair: James Conor Patterson
James Patterson

James Conor Patterson is the editor of the upcoming anthology The New Frontier: Reflections from the Irish Border (New Island Books, 2021) which will be the focus of our 15 November event. He is also author of the poetry collection ‘Bandit Country’ forthcoming from Picador in Autumn 2022. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Guardian, i-D, The Irish Times, Magma, The Moth, Morning Star, New Statesman, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, Poetry Review, RTÉ Culture, The Stinging Fly and The Tangerine, among others.


25th October 2021
19:30 - 21:00 BST
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Irish Literary Society


Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith
5 Black’s Road Hammersmith W6 9DT United Kingdom + Google Map
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