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The rain barrel - Frank Ormsby

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The rain barrel
Frank Ormsby
Paperback / softback
Bloodaxe Books
UK Publication Date

Frank Ormsby's seventh collection of poems reflects not only the beauty of the Irish landscape and the sensuous and aesthetic impact of the small farms among which he grew up, but also the continuing violence of the 'Troubles'. Close to the surface of mountain and bogland lie the hidden graves of the 'Disappeared'. Ormsby continues to make vivid use of the short, resonant poems which were a striking feature of Goat's Milk and The Darkness of Snow. Here too the content is often delivered and reinforced through rich, contrasting images within or between poems: the scarlet flowers growing in a black kettle, the fuchsia that is both 'redolent of old battles' or a 'peaceful tapestry in the annals of stone'. Among the personae of the collection is the obliging father who volunteers to be buried by his children up to the neck in sand within sight of but some distance from
the 'cold shadow of the mountain'. The elegiac note that echoes through the poems rarely darkens the mood. Ormsby's wit and humour, his sly sense of the absurd and what might be called his affection for the living and the dead draw the reader into considering the conviction that it is sometimes 'possible to believe / that joy grows irresistibly at the roots of everything'.

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Frank Ormsby was born in 1947, in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, and was educated at Queen's University in Belfast. Until 2010 he was Head of English at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. His latest collections are The Darkness of Snow (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, which was shortlisted for a National Book Circle Critics Award in the US, and The Rain Barrel (Bloodaxe Books, due 24 October 2019). His retrospective Goat's Milk: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2015), includes work from four previous collections, A Store of Candles (Oxford University Press, 1977), A Northern Spring (Secker & Warburg, 1986), The Ghost Train (Gallery Press, 1995) and Fireflies (Carcanet, 2009), together with new poems, and was shortlisted for the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Literary Prize. He has edited a number of anthologies and other books, including Northern Windows: An Anthology of Ulster Autobiography (1987), Thine in Storm and Calm: An Amanda McKittrick Ros Reader (1988), The Collected Poems of John Hewitt (1991), and The Hip Flask: Short Poems from Ireland (2001), all from Blackstaff Press, and The Blackbird's Nest (2006), an anthology of poems from Queen's University, Belfast. Frank Ormsby was editor of The Honest Ulsterman from 1969 to 1989, and has also edited Poetry Ireland Review. In 1992 he received the Cultural Traditions Award, given in memory of John Hewitt, and in 2002 the Lawrence O'Shaughnessy Award for Poetry from the University of St Thomas at St Paul, Minnesota.
Frank Ormsby was guest of honour at BBC Proms in the Park 2017 at Castle Coole in Northern Ireland; actor Adrian Dunbar read two poems from Goat's Milk: New & Selected Poems accompanied by the Ulster Orchestra and harpist Richard Allen in a specially commissioned work by Graeme Stewart.
In 2018 Frank Ormsby collaborated with singer/songwriter Anthony Toner on an album The Kiss of Light.
The album features recordings of Frank
reading eleven of his own poems, with each reading followed by a short instrumental composed by Anthony Toner in response to the poems. On 6 September 2019 Frank Ormsby was named the eighth Ireland Professor of Poetry.
He will serve from 1 November 2019 until 31 October 2022.

Frank Ormsby belongs to that extraordinary generation of Northern Irish poets which includes Ciaran Carson, Medbh McGuckian, Paul Muldoon and Tom Paulin. He is a poet of the truest measure… From his earliest work Ormsby has favoured a natural shapeliness… A plain-speaking, down-to-earth utterance may be the norm, but it teeters on the verge of taking flight, and sometimes gives way to an exquisitely refined lyricism.
Michael Longley

Goat's Milk: New and Selected Poems, by Frank Ormsby, reminds us why we missed this poet's wry and concise voice during the 14-year gap in his writing life; and the new poems extend and ratify his unique angle of vision.
Irish Times (Books of the Year 2015) - Patricia Craig

Ormsby has found his place and time in The Darkness of Snow.
Ecological and political, personal and historical, these are songs of reconciliation by a poet who was always, in fact, a generous maker of his own peace processes, and exceptionally wise in the art of being human.
PN Review - Carol Rumens

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