Skip to main content

Ciaran Berry

Visiting Poet

Headshot of Ciaran Berry

In the opening poem of Ciaran Berry’s acclaimed third collection, Liner Notes (The Gallery Press, 2018), the speaker’s engagement with the past is first compared to a film playing backward, then to reading the liner notes on a familiar album raised “grail-like into the wayward light.” In Berry’s work, there is no one way of engaging with the complexities of the past that could ever be sufficient. Reaching back into the recesses of a life growing up in Ireland that seems at once familiar and othered, these poems—both celebratory and elegiac—veer, rewind, and roam between subjects as diverse as the death of Elvis, a visit to a butterfly garden and Dolly the cloned sheep. Berry is also the author of The Dead Zoo (The Gallery Press, 2013), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and The Sphere of Birds (SIU Press, 2008), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. Originally from the West of Ireland, he lives in West Hartford and teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Trinity College.

Select Poems

To every rose its thorn, to every bird

the broken wing we take up in our hands

and try to splint. Because the heart is half

and half again, a lighter held aloft,

its flint burning the skin. Because the heart

is dark and chambered like a gun, guitar

solo, the susurrus of drums, the ex

that marks the spot we dress up in spandex,

a poodle perm. The heart all arms and legs,

fingers and thumbs, the most and yet the least

abstract of nouns. What it is, what it wants

beyond our ken. Unless it’s sonnets,

unless it’s silicone, and candles in the wind, 

the heart all sediment and sentiment.


FROM Liner Notes (The Gallery Press, 2018)


        Outside, the snow

    does whatever it is snow does. Banks, I suppose, drifts,

            and perhaps swirls.


Throws a fresh sheet over the asphalt and the cars. Stretch

        out here, it seems

    to say. Lay down and make a pillow with your hands.

            And stopped forever

in those four quatrains, Frost’s horse, his man, stand still and

        watch it fall


    between the pines, one seeing perhaps the rag tooth of

        his own gravestone,

the other winter with a bridle in its hand. The bell a Salvation

    Army worker

  rings has me thinking of them, the horse’s nostrils

        steaming like a wet engine,


his master lost in his reverie, his swoon, and nothing to be

    done. His eyes

  on the snow, my eyes on him, like the eyes of the

            cameraman who can’t seem

to drag his gaze away from those souls who, forsaken, climb

    the rails.


FROM Liner Notes (The Gallery Press, 2018)

Or pick, quick


one finger

and a thumb,


what strums

the strings,

catgut or 



sounds off

in the sound box

the chord


the other fingers


to hold down.

FROM Liner Notes (The Gallery Press, 2018)

About Ciaran

Poetry Center Reading Dates: December 2019