Maurice Scully

1952- ; b. Dublin; ed. TCD (Irish & English); ed. Icarus at TCD;founded lit. journal The Beau, in Dublin, c.1983; winner of Macauley Fellowships, 1986, 1988; taught English abroad both in Greece and Lesotho before returning to Dublin in the 1990s; elected to Aosdana, 2009; Scully was a self-consciously modernist poet in style and form, holding that there is a ‘completely buried “modernist / experimental” tradition’;

his collections incl. Love Poems & Others (1981), Steps (1998), Five Freedoms of Movement (1987; rep. edn. 2001), Over & Through (1992), The Basic Colours (1994), Priority (1995), Prelude (1997), Interlude (1997), Postlude (1997), Steps (1998), Cohering (1999); co-ed. special issue on Irish experimental poetry for Angel Exhaust ( London: Autumn 1998); taught at Dublin City University (DCU) up to 2002;

issued Livelihood: Collected Poems 1981-2001 (2002), from Wild Honey Press, Bray, Co. Wicklow; issued Sonata (2006), the last in his “Things that Happen” series commencing with Five Freedoms of Movement (2000); also Tig (2006); Doing the Same in English (2008) is a ‘sampler’ of work, 1987-2008; Maurice died in Boléa, Spain, 5 March 2023 [aet. 71].

[ top ]

  • Love Poems & Others (Dublin: Raven Arts Press 1981, 1983), 40pp.
  • Five Freedoms of Movement (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Galloping Dog Press 1987), 86pp., and Do. [new rev. edn. (S. Devon: Etruscan Books 2001).
  • Over & Through (Cambridge: Etruscan Books, 1992).
  • Certain Pages [Form Books 1] (London: Form Books 1992), [11]pp.
  • The Basic Colours (Durham: Pig Press 1994).
  • Priority (London: Writers Forum 1995), 57pp., ill., 30cm [poems & prose; var. 1992?].
  • Prelude (Bray: Wild Honey Press 1997), 14pp.
  • Interlude (Bray: Wild Honey Press 1997), 14pp.
  • Postlude (Bray: Wild Honey Press 1997).
  • Steps [Livelihood, 4] (London: Reality Street Editions 1998), 52pp.
  • Cohering (Devon: Etruscan Reader IV 1999).
  • Postlude (Wicklow: Wild Honey Press), 32pp. [bound & sewn chapbook].
  • Sonata (Hastings: Reality Street 2006), 104pp. [last of 4-pt. “Things that Happen” ser.].
  • Tig (Shearsman Books 2006), 102pp.
  • Humming (Exeter: Shearsman Books 2009), 97pp. [ill.]
  • A Tour of the Lattice - from Things that Happen (1981-2006) [Veer 034] (London: Veer Books 2011), 155pp. [a selection from Maurice Scully’s 8-book project Things That Happen - p.4. (cover)], ill.
  • Playbook (Ballybeg [Tipp.]: Coracle 2019), 188pp., ill by Colin Sackett, et al.]
  • Things that Happen (Swindon: Shearsman Books 2020),
  • 609pp.
  • Airs (Swindon: Shearsman Books 2022), 123pp.
Livelihood [ser.]

Livelihood [London: Reality Street Editions 1998), 70pp.; Livelihood: Collected Poems 1981-2001 (Bray: Wild Honey Press 2002), [q.pp.]; Livelihood (Bray: Wild Honey Press 2004), 346pp. [incls. index].

  • Doing the Same in English: A Sampler of Work 1987-2008 (Dublin: Dedalus Press 2008), 202pp.
For children
  • What Is The Cat Looking At? [bi-lingual edn.] (Berlin: Faber 1995).
  • Ed., Taking Figaries: Poems and Stories from North Tipperary [Tipperary (N.Riding) County Council [2004]), x, 57pp.; 21cm
[ top ]
  • [With John Goodby], ed., Colonies of Belief: Ireland’s Modernists [Coelacanth Critical Essays Ser.] (Dublin: Coelacanth Press 2002].

[For bibliographical details, see the full listing of works cited in British Library Catalogues (COPAC-JISC)
compiled at 1997 and revised in 2013 -as infra. ]

[ top ]

  • David Annwn, Arcs Through: The Poetry of Maurice Scully, with Randolph Healy & Billy Mills (Coelancth Press [2003]), 40pp. [reviewed in Books Ireland, Summer 2003].
  • Kenneth Keating, ed., A Line of Tiny Zeros in the Fabric: Essays on the Poetry of Maurice Scully (Swindon: Shearsman Books 2020), 211pp. [1 ill.]
See also Peter Quartermain, Other British and Irish Modernist Poetry Since 1970 (New England: Wesleyan University Press 1988).
  • Michael S. Begnal, review of Doing the Same in English: A Sampler of Work 1987-2008, by Maurice Scully, in An Sionnach: A Journal of Literature, Culture, and the Arts, 5, 1 & 2 [Crieghton UP] (Spring & Fall 2009), pp.314-17 [see extract].
  • Paul Perry, review of Humming, in The Stinging Fly, 2:17 (2010-11) [see extract]
  • Fred Johnston, review of Playbook, in Books Ireland Feb. (2020) [see extract].
  • Karl O’Hanlon, review of Airs by Maurice Scully, in Dublin Review of Books (Dec. 2022): [see extract].

Note: A lecture module on Scully is included in the English course entitled “The Fascination of What’s Difficult” given by Philip Coleman at TCD (2015-16).

[ top ]

Conleth Ellis, review of Paper Token (Coelacanth Press) [pamph.], in Books Ireland (May 1987): ‘“Paper Token” the least experimental [is] a poem that concerns itself with “the name of the noise of the train”, with Sumerian pictographs and their associated variously-shaped tokens, and with the way in which ‘images / of the tokens / supplanted / the tokens / themselves’. Further: ‘Scully’s esoteric constructs have few visible means of support. When not self-regarding, they can be compelling, especially in their strikingly etched images, often starkly silhouetted against profound and resonant darkness.’ (p.100.)

Michael S. Begnal, review of Doing the Same in English: A Sampler of Work 1987-2008, by Maurice Scully, in An Sionnach: A Journal of Literature, Culture, and the Arts, 5, 1 & 2 [Crieghton UP] (Spring & Fall 2009), pp.314-17: ‘John Goodby labels Scully a “neo-modernist” and writes that “Scully’s expressionism .. is more obviously a continuation of the avant-garde’s assault on art as institution” [Irish Poetry Since 1950 (2000)]. This places Scully at a pole opposite the neo-bardic poetry of other, more well-known Irish poets. It has also made it more difficult for him to reach a wider audience. [...] Like his modernist forebears Ezra Pound and especially William Carlos Williams, Scully can at times be quite imagist, as he is in the preceding {315} extract. But imagism is not his limit - it is in the act of writing, the conscious transmitting of information, that the poet is present. For Scully, the poem is something vastly different than any scene it purports to describe. [...] This goes to the heart of Scully’s existential position as a poet. A major theme of his is ephemerality, or rather the awareness of the impermanence of everything except change itself. It is the awareness that the images the poet sees are also constantly changing, that they soon will appear quite differently, and will have in fact become other images altogether. There is no attempt in his work to fix time, or to fix the ongoing process that is this life.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

Paul Perry, review of Humming, in The Stinging Fly, 2:17 (2010-11): ‘Maurice Scully has been working outside the Irish lyric tradition for nearly thirty years now. His latest full-length book of new work since Things That Happen (1981-2006) is Humming, a body of poems which immerse themselves in the daring process of notating the mind at work, at play, and registering the idle moments of consciousness and of being in the world.[...]

The line is a questioned entity in Scully’s work, a suspicious unit in the make-up of a poem. In this sense, Scully displays what the American poet Tony Hoagland has described, with a new wave of US poets in mind, as a ‘pervasive sense of the inadequacy or exhaustion of all modes other than the associative.’ Fair enough, but Scully has been plying his methods here for the last thirty years. The book is dedicated, after the ‘Coda,’ another reversal, to his brother. It’s interesting, and ironic when thinking of Humming as an elegy and ‘wrack-lined’ poem, to remember that the original ‘classical’ elegies were poems of a specific poetic metre.

‘It is a poetry that is playful, irreverent, skittish, rhapsodic and paratactic all at the same time. The modernist tag Scully has been given along the way seems a little outdated and out-modish even. At least that’s how it feels now. Better the elliptical description of Hoagland’s where narrative is eschewed for real cultural reasons, an aversion to authoritarianism, closure, progress even and demonstrating a poetry equal to the ‘speed and disruption’ within culture. While at one moment the Arts Council is derided in ‘Ballad,’ in another moment a ‘Neanderthal burial site’ is found, 60,000 years old, where ‘flowers are known to have been used in a funeral ceremony’ for the first time.

‘It may be difficult to assess how Scully’s work has evolved over the years. The Dedalus Press’s Primer in 2006 went some way to doing that, but as one self-contained ‘project’ Humming stands out in Scully’s oeuvre, making it somewhat surprising that by late in 2010, more than a year after the book’s publication, not to mention its absence from any short lists, prizes or honourable mentions, this review appears to be the first attention given to it. Among the saturated short narrative and straight lyric pages of Irish poetry, Humming represents a considerable and significant change. For all these reasons, I read Humming as a major work by a poet who has for long worked on the peripheries, but whose working aesthetic becomes more urgent, more necessary and more relevant to the rest of our lives. (See full copy - as attached.)

[ top ]

Fred Johnston, review of Playbook, in Books Ireland (Feb. 2020): ‘[...] Maurice Scully - whom I first met in a writers’ seminar chaired by the late Anthony Cronin in NUI, Galway, in the late 1970s - has ploughed a relentlessly modernist furrow, his work never truly conforming to the rules and regulations of the poetry world around him. Even today, any ‘experimental’ Irish poet must find him/herself working in a small space and for a small audience in an already small poetry world. [...] What, one may argue, is Scully doing that is so different, or different at all, from the poetry of most of his fellows? For one thing, he’s stripping away conventional narrative and any accompanying descriptive/deceptive flourishes. The lyrical is for the most part abandoned as unnecessary, even intrusive. Impression, the weight of the individual word, the suggestion of environment, place, attitude - all these have precedence. Language is merely a means of saying something. Interpretation and identification are fluid yet determined by the linguistic Lego pieces on the page. To an extent, the reader does most of the work. At another level, Scully is stripping away the bodywork so that we can see the engine laid bare; this is what a poem looks like when you take away the superfluities. This is what a Bauhaus poem might look like. Getting down to the very essence of poetic expression, Maurice Scully informs, delights and challenges. Such directness deserves a wider audience.’ (Available at Books Ireland - online; see full copy - as attached.

Karl O’Hanlon, review of Airs by Maurice Scully, in Dublin Review of Books (Dec. 2022): ‘Writing on Maurice Scully’s poetry tends to begin by signalling certain important identifications and disclaimers. He is an heir to the modernists of the 1930s: Thomas MacGreevy, Denis Devlin, Brian Coffey and Samuel Beckett. His work is disregarded, overlooked, neglected in favour of the clockwork Irish lyric, with its parade of closure, territorialisation and possessive epiphanies. His work bears examination in relation to a group of “neo-modernist” Irish poets: Trevor Joyce, Catherine Walsh, Billy Mills and David Lloyd. Alex Davis has written the definitive book on this “broken line” in his monograph on Denis Devlin, exemplary in its literary-critical attentiveness, while David Lloyd’s new book Counterpoetics of Modernity: On Irish Poetry and Modernism (Edinburgh University Press, 2022) contains a chapter on Scully’s perambulations, investigating them in terms of a strikingly original postcolonial thesis of modern Irish poetry. These are significant and important definitions of Scully’s aesthetic and place in the Irish literary canon. / I want to start somewhere different.’

O’Hanlon’s discussion departs from Thomas Campion’s Observations in the Art of English Poesie (1602) - ‘might be a surprising place to think about Scully’s particular facility with the smooth gravity of the English language’. He later refers to the ‘Viscous poise: fluid yet balanced’ and writes of ‘an astonished courtesy of things fitting together nicely, craft coming together with open-endedness’ - ending: ‘In the post-Romantic toss-up between tranquillity and spontaneity, it’s hard not to be convinced that tranquillity won. There is another lyric history to be told: one of proportion and disproportion, that neither rejects artifice nor laments process and vulnerability ‑ a hyphenated music manoeuvred in Scully’s shadowy airs. “Arc” ends in enjoyable melancholy, quoting lines (“among the ... among the miserable people”) which the notes tell us are from Dáibhí Ó Bruadair’s mairg nach fuil ’na dhubhtuata [...]’; - ending with a second quotation from “Lullaby”, the first of which includes the word ‘viscosity’ used here [as infra]. (See full copy - as attached.)

[ top ]



under the hills
over there where
you remember now that
viscosity is
measured in time
in units of


flick -
down to
threading finely
to base
fitting shape into
floating somehow
somehow fluid
pre-prepared -
idir na
idir na daoinibh duarca

this must be art.

  (“Lullaby”; quoted in Paul Perry, review of Air, in Dublin Review of Books (Dec. 2022).

[ top ]

Scully read “Poetry” on video during 2015 as part of the UCD Poetry Reading Collection series [online]. A printed copy of the poem is available on Poetry Internatonal web-page online.

This remarkable composition epitomises the work of a poet engaged in a life-long artistic and intellectual ‘project’ aimed at demonstrating the limitations of lyric verse - the preferred medium of the Irish literary tradition - and advancing the modernist re-make of poetic form. In reading it, Scully reproduced the sound of all the letters which appear on the page including those in the second and third stanzas which, on inspection, are first if differentiated by marks of increasing textual delapidation as if damaged by time and neglect. Thus pa m in the second stanza and rmin in the last are clearly remnants of ‘palm’ and ‘germinate’ in the first while il and id in Stanza 3 can tentatively be assigned to ‘until’ and ‘did’ in the first. If so, however, they are clearly in the wrong order - just as the location of rmin in the left margin seems to preclude the insertion of the missing stem whether by editorial error or for a definite authorial reason.


Poetry”, by Maurice Scully (2014)

[COMMENT: What to make of all this? In general there is a sense of textual decay as if the damage suffered by the botanical DNA mentioned in the opening were likewise suffered by the text - much like certain Middle Irish texts or even the Old English epic Beowulf which was scorched by fire in the Cottonian collection. In this sense Scully’s poem is an ubi sunt not utterly remote from Shelley’s “Oxymandius” - with Herod standing in for that ancient despot of Shelley’s famous poem. Yet, unlike that mellifluous sonnet, it also participates in the modernist project of language fragmentation - part critique of modern decadence and part reflection on the faulty nature of literary redaction over the longer stretches of cultural history. At the same time, it perpetuates a hidden aspect of the Irish literary revival in its way of putting culture and language in brackets as if to ask why it takes the form that it does, whether it must take such a form, and what happens to it in time In that sense it is an embodiment of the underlying principles of Irish revivalist-modernism. BS 07.03.2023. ]

—Available at International Poetry - online; accessed 06.03.2023. Click the poem to view in a new window.

Anthologies: Scully is represented in Sheppard & Robinson, eds., News for the Ear: A Homage to Roy Fisher (Exeter: Stride 2000); Caddel & Quartermain, eds., British & Irish Poetry Since 1970 (Wesleyan UP 1999); Frank Ormsby, ed., Hip Flask (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2000); Eamon Hughes, ed., April Eye: Poems for Peter Riley (Cambridge: Infernal Methods 2000); Seán Ó Tuama, ed., Twentieth Century British & Irish Poetry (OUP 2001).

COPAC list at Feb. 1997; emended at March 2023.
  • Love Poems and Others (Dublin:Raven Arts Press 1981, 1983), 40p; 22cm.
  • Ed., 25 Poems by Randolph Healy [The Beau booklet ser.] (Dublin:Beau Press 1983), 31p; 20cm.
  • 1 2 3 procedures ([ Dublin]: Coelacanth Press, [1986?], 1 sh. [21x30 cm folded to 21x20].
  • Five Freedoms of Movement (Newcastle upon Tyne:Galloping Dog Press 1986), 86 p:ill; 29cm; Do., [rev. edn.; Exhibition ser.] (Buckfastleigh: Etruscan Books [2001]), 91pp., ill., 16cm.
  • History ([Dublin]: Coelacanth Press 1987), 1 sheet; 21 x 30cm. folded to 21 x 10cm.
  • Over and Through [Poetical histories, 21] (Cambridge: Peter Riley 1992), [9]pp.
  • Certain Pages (London: Form Books 1992), [10]pp.; 21cm., pbk.
  • with David Giannini Prior, Breeze at Eyes [Tel let, 18] (Charleston, IL: Tel-let 1992), [19] leaves; 28cm [edn. of 75].
  • The Basic Colours: A Watchman’s Log (Durham: Pig Press 1994), 60pp., ill., 23cm.
  • Priority (London: Writers Forum 1994), 57pp., ill., 30cm [poems & prose; Contents: Prior - Trial/peace - Over & through - Coda - Notes].
  • Bob Cobbing, Maurice Scully, Carlyle Reedy [Etruscan reader, 4] (Lyme: Etruscan Books 1996), 50pp., ill., 21cm, pbk.
  • From Zulu Dynamite (Vermont: Longhouse 1997), 1 folded sheet (8pp.); 9 x 11cm., pbk.
  • Interlude (Bray: Wild Honey Press 1997), 13pp. v.:ill.; 21cm. pbk [‘Being the middle section of the book Priority [which is] the middle volume in the 5-book work Livelihood, the set’; ltd. Edn. 200.]
  • Prelude (Bray, Co. Wicklow: Wild Honey Press 1997 [A poem] ‘Being the prelude to Livelihood, a work in five books.’ [colophon; ltd. edn. of 200].
  • with Bob Cobbing & Carlyle Reedy, Poetry [Etruscan Reader] (Newcastle-upon-Lyme: Etruscan Books 1999) [var. pagings]
  • Steps [Livelihood, 4] (London: Reality Street Editions 1998), 70pp.; cf. edn. of 2002, [
  • [...]
  • Ed., Taking figaries: Poems and Stories from North Tipperary [Tipperary (N.Riding) County Council [2004]), x, 57pp.; 21cm
  • Tig (Shearsman Books 2006), [n.p.].
  • Humming (Exeter: Shearsman Books 2009), 97pp. [ill.]
  • A tour of the lattice - from Things that happen (1981-2006) (London: Veer Books 2011), 155pp.
  • [...]
  • Things that Happen (Swindon: Shearsman Books 2020), 609pp.
  • Airs (Swindon: Shearsman Books 2022), 123pp.
COPAC-JISC > search term: Maurice Scully (Irish poet) - online.

  [ top ]