Wasp on the Prayer Flag

Wasp on the Prayer Flag (Alba Publishing, 60 pages) is a selection of the writing of Irish poet Maeve O’Sullivan from 2018-2021, momentous years, as it turned out. The first section of the book is divided into Seasons, with autumn leading the way and including this outstanding haiku:

first autumn storm
my balcony flags
still releasing prayers

The Haiku Sequences offers us the chance to travel with the author as she explores Ireland, a country that was on my to-do list – and with luck and science hopefully may still be.

estuary swim
on a rare sunny day –
this beach’s name means mouth

(from the sequence Kerry Dreamtime)

O’Sullivan’s quiet descriptions give me a good ‘feel’ for her places, which sound much like many I know in New Zealand. Like her, I have been rediscovering my own country and feel richer for it. One silver lining of restricted travel has undoubtedly been that we’ve all looked harder and thought more deeply about ‘near’, rather than rushing to tick off the next exotic surrounding of ‘far’. O’Sullivan is an experienced traveller – as detailed in her 2017 collection Elsewhere – and even manages a sweetly wry senryu about her ‘old life’.

bored with lockdown
I wear the sandals in which
I travelled the world

Finally, there’s a decent-sized selection of senryu, arranged under topic headings including ‘RIP’, ‘Home Sweet Home’ and, inevitably, ‘Pandemic’, the topic that’s had us all in its grasp for the past 18 months.

no human hugs
for seven weeks –
this silver birch will do

I’m glad the senryu were separated out as it allows the humour for which the Irish are famed to sparkle through here and there, even when addressing the bleakest of subjects.

after three funerals
hoping the tiramisù
lives up to its name

Throughout the collection, which is the right size to enjoy at one sitting (if that’s how you take your haiku) are, if you’ll excuse the pun given the following, poems that are breath-taking in their observation and depth of perception.

piper’s in-breath
released in a series of notes –
midsummer

Many of the poems have been published, or broadcast, previously. Pulling them together in this collection is a valuable, and sensible, exercise as O’Sullivan’s publishing credits show that her work finds a home in many and varied outlets, a surprising number of them print-only.

this little moorhen
navigating alone
canal walk

(from the sequence Holy Week Blessings)

Wasp on the Prayer Flag may be ordered through Maeve O’Sullivan’s own website, or from the publisher with whom she’s had a long and fruitful association.