Review of Lillies on the Deathbed of Étaín and Other Poems

By Chase Hollobaugh


Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín and Other Poems is the latest collection of poetry from Irish poet Oisín Breen. The collection contains two long-form works as well as four shorter poems. 

As someone who has traditionally only read short poems, I felt the long-form works were an adjustment, but their effect was not lessened by their length. My favorite of the two is “The Lovesong of Anna Rua.” The poem begins with the lines:

                     “Ha-ra-hao-  Ha-ra-hao- Rah-Hao- Ha-Rah-Hao-

                      Ha-ra-hao- Ha-ra-hao- Rah-Hao-”

which creates a sense of chanting in the poem. Breen continues this throughout the poem, using different words and phrases as each section develops. This singsong nature takes full effect, backed by added spaces between sounds, when the speaker says: “Anna- Aye-Anna- Aye-Anna- / Aye-.” Some of these chanting lines do get hard to parse, however, as Breen uses hyphens to create long strands of words that run into one another, such as with 


While these lines do require the reader to pay more attention to the poems, they serve to break up the ideas within, and allow readers to pause in between Breen’s sections of dense imagery. For example, Breen writes:

“Melancholias, forced fixed euphorias, thrills, spills, and

hackneyed blue-eyed boys and girls who, sunning

themselves, with ice-cream dripping down their noses,

as their faux-saintliness has gravity itself inverted,

conceive of nothing other than being like and unto one

and other”

in section three of the poem. From the first word, a reader’s mind is drawn into thoughts of sadness, only to be thrust back into a sense of joy with the paradoxical “euphorias.” The image of children enjoying ice cream is then thrown into contrast with the accusations of “faux saintliness.” The additional image of inverted gravity adds a surreal quality to these lines, and obfuscates the image of children playing in the sun and enjoying their ice creams. While these layered images can make the poem hard to parse, they do not make it impossible. If nothing else, a reader could get lost within the images, trying to imagine each and every scene, before connecting it back with the rest of the work and the meanings of the poems. While getting lost may affect reader enjoyment, it did not negatively impact me as I read through the poems.

If the long-form poems are intimidating, then the shorter poems will offer a more familiar option to readers of short form poetry. “Six Months Bought with Dirt: the Bothy Crop of Arranmore” may still seem intimidating to readers expecting short line lengths, as its stanzas more closely resemble paragraphs, but will no less offer an engaging reading experience to anyone who takes the time to imagine the pictures Breen is painting throughout each stanza. Lines like “They knelt in the dirt, above the worms, and seedlings / Dampened off, pressing their hands beneath the earth, seeking / A grip” create haunting images of farmers clutching at the ground, pulling it apart to tend their crop. These dense stanzas come together beautifully in the last three lines as well, as the speaker condenses the thoughts and motion of the poem into a succinct and lasting image.

  My favorite short-form work in the collection is “At Swim, Two Pair.” Once again, Breen constructs an eerie image as the speaker describes the declining marine life he is watching swim across the water. The poem repeats the line “Two pair, where once moved a score and six” at the middle and conclusion of the poem. This line, when combined with “mother, sister, and kin” in the first line invokes an image of 26 women swimming, as their number is slowly reduced to four. When combined with the animals mentioned in the last stanza, the image shifts to fish or other marine life that are hunted as they travel along waterways.

While much of the poetry within Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín can feel heady and overwhelming with imagery to the reader, it rewards careful readings with an equal amount of depth. The collection boasts re-readability as well, as new meanings spring forth from the reader’s focus on different aspects of each poem. All in all, the collection contains a wealth of expansive imagery contained within six poems.

Poetry Feature: Lonely Asteroid’s Ode to a Rover by Chloe Ziegler

Follows: Curiosity Rover Sings Happy Birthday to Itself


I’ll kiss you like the autumn
sun to a horizon, just
at seven. 
And I’ll miss you like lost
stars in smog, just  
past heaven. 

Curiosity does best me when
I hear you sing alone oh

My Dear, I won’t be long. Just   
hold your galactic gates till
dawn, and remember how 
I love you.


Chloe Ziegler is a senior attending Towson University who has had works published in Towson High School’s Colophon. She has gained several years of editing experience while working on both schools’ literary magazines. This is in pursuit of a lifelong passion for literary journals and writing that began in a second-grade after-school poetry workshop. As shown in her poem, she is an outspoken feminist and activist via her literary works and also on social media.  Chloe is also featured in Volume 72.