Joan McBreen

Map and Atlas (New Collection 2017)

The poems in Map and Atlas capture McBreen's experience of illness, vulnerability and frailty and highlight the temporary nature of life itself, they also contain an admirable resilience and determination.

Map and Atlas (Salmon Poetry 2017), Joan's 5th collection of poetry, will be launched by teacher, editor and art lover, Niall MacMonagle.

Joan has edited two anthologies and has engaged in a number of artistic collaborative projects including the Mountain Ash Broadside with printmaker Margaret Irwin and letterpress printer, Mary Plunkett ( Artisan House Connemara, 2015). At Listowel Writers' Week in 2014, Joan launched her CD The Mountain Ash in Connemara, readings accompanied by Glen Austin's compositions performed by the RTÉ ConTempo String Quartet.

Joan McBreen, from Sligo, now divides her time between Tuam and Renvyle, Co. Galway. She is a serving member of the board of Poetry Ireland.

Launch of The Mountain Ash Broadside

Broadside Noun: A sheet of paper printed on one side only, forming one large page.

Poet Joan McBreen launched an audio CD in 2014 entitled The Mountain Ash in Connemara.

It features readings by the poet with original music compositions and new arrangements of traditional Irish airs by composer Glen Austin, performed by the RTÉ ConTempo String Quartet.

For The Mountain Ash Broadside Joan McBreen initiated a collaborative artistic venture with artist and printmaker Margaret Irwin West, letterpress printer Mary Plunkett of The Belgrave Private Press and publishers, Artisan House Connemara. The Mountain Ash Broadside was launched during the Clifden Arts Festival 2015 which featured an original etching by Margaret Irwin West, The Mountain Ash poem by Joan McBreen set in letterpress and hand-printed by The Belgrave Private Press, Dublin.

This special limited edition of 150 prints was signed by the poet and artist, dated and numbered.

Joan McBreen who commissioned the broadside said:
"I am very excited by this project which has resulted in a quite beautiful work of art. The Broadside has a proud place in Irish literary history. The work of Lilly and Lolly Yeats, who established the Cuala Press in Dublin in the early 1920s, produced wonderful broadsides of the poems of their brother, WB Yeats and illustrated by Jack B Yeats. I am also very proud of the fact that most of the work was undertaken in Connemara, my adopted home, where artists of the calibre of Margaret Irwin West and publishers Artisan House are based".

The Broadside was launched by Des Kavanagh on Saturday, 19th September, during the Clifden Arts Festival 2015. The venue for the launch was the Old Supervalu / Festival Gallery building which hosted the AIB Art Collection exhibition.

The Broadside is commissioned by Joan McBreen and published by Artisan House Connemara.

The Mountain Ash in Connemara

Selected Poems by Joan McBreen featuring commissioned original music and arrangements by Glen Austin.

The Mountain Ash in Connemara audio CD will features the RTÉ Contempo Quartet performing a selection of original music compositions with arrangements of traditional Irish airs for string quartet by composer Glen Austin. Joan McBreen's readings of her poetry are interspersed by this music.

The original compositions and arrangements were recorded by the RTÉ Contempo Quartet at Sun Street Studios, Tuam, County Galway, on the 17th, 18th and 19th of February, 2014.

The Mountain Ash in Connemara audio CD was released at a celebration concert at Listowel Writers' Week, County Kerry, on Thursday May 29th in the Listowel Arms Hotel. The RTÉ Contempo Quartet premièred some of the music composed and arranged by composer Glen Austin for The Mountain Ash in Connemara CD at this event. Throughout this concert Joan McBreen read her poetry which will be accompanied by this music. The following concerts also take the same format.

In the second concert music from The The Mountain Ash in Connemara was performed by the RTÉ Contempo Quartet at the International Yeats Summer School, Sligo on July 31st 2014 in the Methodist Church.

A third concert was performed by the RTÉ Contempo Quartet at Clifden Arts Festival on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 in The Church of Ireland, Clifden, County Galway.

A fourth and final concert was was performed by the RTÉ Contempo Quartet at the Connemara Mussel Festival on Friday May 1st at the Church of Christ the King, Tullycross, Renvyle, County Galway.

2014 Season, Joan McBreen's Interview from The Center for Public Television

2014 Season, Joan McBreen from The Center for Public Television on Vimeo.

The Center for Public TV is a full-service multimedia and video production department within the University of Alabama, College of Communication.

Heather Island is Reprinted in 2013

Heather Island Joan McBreen's Heather Island is an enchanting volume of poetry--both lyrical and powerfully moving-- that pulled me into the heart of the Renvyle peninsula and the soul of this masterful poet.
Professor Mary Swander, Poet Laureate of the State of Iowa

In Heather Island we visit Joan McBreen's Connemara and a wider traveled world with a connoisseur of light and landscape who sharply records the ways in which both are constantly changing under the seasonal forces that endlessly batter, tear, and wilt its many flowers ("little ministers of hope and love"), birds, and peoples, until we gradually realize that her quiet lyric descriptions mirror the unquiet heart of a poet who moves from dark shadows, where accepted loss resides and elegies emerge, into a breaking light that brings "the heart lift," a reflected sunlight in which "much is possible," a brightness "that travels well, / crossing over / the ordinary. Beyond." We are with a poet singing her own song - "In winter from dark to light I celebrate" - on a constant quest for "the nameless, the doráite [the unutterable] at the heart of things." Along the way she hides in heartbreak as "an observer / of the life it sees, / made sometimes invisible, but / in the end, eternal, in moving light." Her quest is enriched by the discovery of other writers in their beloved landscapes who, like Neruda, like Borges, like Willa Cather on the prairies of Red Cloud, Nebraska, also "saw in the hearts of men and women / everything make-believe and real."
Professor Ronald Schuchard,Emory University

In Heather Island, Joan McBreen again brings the natural and human worlds into focus through her precise imagery, seemingly small and yet oh-so-significant details. We readers are invited to set foot first on the high roads and beaches of Connemara. We are invited simultaneously to linger and travel. These poems take us to geographies that open into the metaphysical, the spiritual. Reading these poems, I am again and again granted William Blake's wish; Joan McBreen has the rare vision to see worlds in grains of sand and heavens in flowers. The poems are so multi-textured, evoking such a wide range of emotions.
Professor Sandra Sprayberry, University of Southern Alabama

A wise discernment has evolved out of the attention to landscape and the quotidian in Joan McBreen’s evocative poems, many of which are distinguished by a keen awareness that this is a world in which “loss is a silence you cannot forget”. Her observations of the specifics of place are among the delights of Heather Island. There is too an inner calm conveyed in the lyrical cadence of work that is thoughtfully and skilfully paired back to the absolute essentials.
Gerard Smyth, Poet and Chairman of the Board of Poetry Ireland

The opening poems of Heather Island are set in Galway, and the closing poems much farther afield, in Latin America Nebraska, Zurich. Yet wherever Joan McBreen finds herself, she finds a poetic center by writing out the heartbreak and the wonder of nature; in knowing both loss and gratitude at the same time; and by balancing sparseness and plenty. This is a collection filled with sudden joys-as in "Chrysanthemums in Winter," one of my favorites. Most of all, Heather Island shows us a generous heart in love with the world.
James Silas Rogers, Editor of New Hibernia Review, University of St. Thomas. MN.

Through their simple, plain-spoken respect for the ordinary forces of the landscape she loves - for its fauna and flora, its "season of stillness," its "late blackberries ruined by rain", or its "disconsolate cry of the lost" - the poems in Joan McBreen's quietly lyrical third collection compose a settlement for the heart, even a site for soul-pondering.

In brief elegies and celebrations her poems address losses, local phenomena, familial transitions, fashioning language-moments of subdued rapture (bird wings "the colour of opals") or sharply accented nostalgia (living away from Ireland, she insists that "one seashell to hold close/ to my ear would do,/ and rain on my face").

"I sing my own song," she says in one poem, and in the best of these poems her notes ring sweet and clear, so even winter clouds can "break, letting in such light."
Review by Eamon Grennan.

In this, her fourth collection, Joan McBreen interrogates loss and completes a tentative journey of renewal. A quiet strength sustains the consistently elegiac mood of "Heather Island". This poet of autumn and diminishing light revisits the shapes and colours of Tully lake and mountain in Connemara, the 'browning bracken' and 'the late blackberries'. But McBreen also travels far beyond the comfort of the familiar, to South America, to Borges and Neruda, to the mysteries of passing time and death. There is a serenity and sense of liberation, in her poems of acceptance, of 'souls set free/wheeling in the wind/unhurried/in a vast sky/beyond sound'.
Review by Geraldine Mitchell.

Irish Writers' Centre Break World Record

The Irish Writers' Centre has made history by claiming the Guinness World Record for 'Most Authors Reading Consecutively From Their Own Books'. With overwhelming support both on and offline, 111 writers read throughout the night to wrest the title previously held by Berlin Literature Festival.

Broadcast partner streamed the event to over 103,000 people watching across the globe, from Parnell Square to Perth. It kicked off on Friday morning at 10am with an introduction from Senator David Norris. Readers included John Boyne, Seamus Heaney, Roddy Doyle, Kevin Barry, Pat Boran, Marita Conlon-McKenna and Jack Harte, Chairman of the Irish Writers' Centre.

"On this very special Bloomsday, James Joyce would be proud of what we have achieved. As a working struggling author all his life he had a lot in common with our contemporary authors showcased here in the last 28 hours," said Jack Harte.

Listen to Joan talk exclusively about the World Record

Find out more about the event.


A day of mist. Whitethorn in flower
on the High Road. Green, young,
the honeysuckle at my back door.
The Atlantic breaks on the strand.

In fields and ditches, whitethorn
shelters blackbird, linnet and wren.
No branch died last winter.
Red haws endured the snow.

Blossom falls like confetti
and mist turns to rain. I go inside
to echoes, empty rooms.
You put away the children's things.

IBAM! - Cultural Festival in Chicago November 12th & 13th 2011

iBAM! is a gathering of authors, artists and musicians from around the world, under one roof, for a two day Irish cultural celebration. Joan is giving a reading on Sunday the 13th at 3pm.

The Celebration kicks off at 11am both days. Food and drink will be served all day and places to relax and enjoy a cup of tea or a refreshing pint while reading your new purchases will be everywhere!

Enjoy panel discussions, live music, author and poetry readings, cooking demonstrations, films, theater, workshops, and the general craic of a good time with friends. Tickets are $10/day in advance and $15 at the door.

Find out more about IBAM
Shedule of Events

What Writers Do - Anthology Launch November 12th

The Lenoir-Rhyne University Visiting Writers Series' anthology, What Writers Do will be launched in Hickory, NC on Saturday, November 12th.

Joan McBreen's submissions, "February Song" and "Cardiff, March 1995," will be included in the anthology and she is looking forward to attending the launch.

What Writers Do, with its behind the scenes look at the craft of writing, celebrates the series that continues to connect great writers with delighted readers. For more than 20 years the Visiting Writers Series at Lenoir-Rhyne University has championed great writers - both established and emerging.

Rand Brandes, series founder and editor, and Anthony Abbott, this volume's editor, have brought together some of the series' most beloved and memorable writers to form a collection that includes: new prose by Bret Lott, Mark Powell and Dori Sanders; new poems by Joan McBreen, Sharon Olds, Fred Chappell and Billy Collins; and classic memoir excerpts by the likes of John Updike, Reynolds Price and Frank McCourt. More than words, this volume also features photographs of the writers and where they work.

Find out more about the anthology here.

Annual Clifden Arts Festival - Ireland's oldest arts festival!

Clifden Arts Festival

Clifden Community Arts Week is celebrating its 34th anniversary in 2011, and is a great celebration of the Arts which includes poetry readings, lectures, recitals, traditional music, concerts, comedy, etc. all enjoyed in a wonderful relaxed atmosphere in one of the most beautiful places on the West Coast.

Time to take walks during the day, enjoy the lovely Autumn colours, eat in a great choice of restaurants, and then be inspired by Ireland's best artists as they mingle and talk with the local community and visitors alike. View website nearer the time for the complete programme of events taking place during the festival, and for times and venues of the various acts.

Clifden Community Arts Week, the west of Ireland's most prominent and longest running community arts festival, will return this September for its 34th year of artistic celebration. Taking place from September 15 to 25, the festival boasts an impressive line up of national and international talent with a jam-packed programme that covers all spectrums of the arts from literature and music to theatre, film, and comedy, as well as inspirational talks and lectures and a dedicated schools' programme.

This year's highlights include readings from presidential candidate and politician Michael D Higgins and Ireland Professor of Poetry Harry Clifton with Leanne O'Sullivan. The impressive literary programme also includes poets Dermot Healy, Louis DePaor, Tom Paulin and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, and Eilean Ni Chuilleanan and Macdara Woods, who as husband and wife are great pioneers for modern Irish poetry. Playwright and novelist Thomas Kilroy will also read as will Hennessey New Irish Writer of the Year and local Clifden woman Siobhan Mannion.

Clifden Arts Festival Website

An Evening of Poetry and Music
A reading by Iowa State Poet Laureate

Mary Swander, Poet Laureate of the State of Iowa

Poetry Ireland in association with the Irish Writers' Centre & Dublin UNESCO city of Literature presented a reading by Poet Laureate of the State of Iowa Mary Swander, Seamus Cashman & Joan McBreen with classical guitarist Redmond O' Toole. This event took place on Thursday 9th June at 6.30 pm.

"A marvelous collection ... Miss Swander's characters enthral" -New York Times Book Review A recipient of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, Mary Swander's work is "powerfully aural, even choral, in ways we expect of an earlier, regional American literature, from Sherwood Anderson to Faulkner to Eudora Welty. There is really nothing to compare it to in our poetry." -Stanley Plumly

"... at times grotesque in its human portraiture, at times magically real in images and events, but always moving, surprising like the consummate American river that pervades its lines." -Daniel Tobin

"Praise for The Watchful Heart"

The Watchful Heart

The Watchful Heart - A New Generation of Irish Poets - Poems and Essays

Publication - Spring 2009
First Reprinted - June 2010
The Watchful heart is an anthology of the work of twenty-four Irish poets born in the last fifty years. It contains biographical and bibliographical details of each contributor, together with photographs. All poets included have published at least two collections of poetry. Poetry in Irish with translations is also included. None of the poetry in this anthology has previously been published in collection form and with a few exceptions, the essays have not been published before. This anthology has been compiled and edited by poet Joan McBreen, whose previous anthology The White Page - An Bhileog Bhán: Twentieth-Century Irish Women Poets (Salmon Poetry 1999) is now in its third reprint.
Read Gerald Dawe's introduction at the launch night here.


For those of us who are avid readers and teachers of Irish poetry at some distance from Ireland, TheWatchful Heart is an invaluable aid to our search for rich new talent to share with students, invite to readings, and add to courses. The unique introductory format of photograph, biography, published collections, new poems and prose statement by each poet greatly facilitates personal discovery and the desire to read more; the anthology is a welcome and essential complement to The White Page / An Bhileog Bhán: Twentieth Century Irish Women Poets.
Professor Ronald Schuchard
Emory University, Atlanta.

There is a sense in The Watchful Heart of a particular moment being recorded. What Joan McBreen has achieved in this anthology is to capture the fleeting transitory nature of the past twenty years or so in Ireland; a time of flux and change. I hope the public buy lots of copies of Joan McBreen's anthology. For 'The Girl Upstairs' by Leontia Flynn, for a start, or for John O Donnell's 'A Wedding Guest' but also because in so doing all twenty-four poets in The Watchful Heart will have contributed towards the healing work of Cancer Care West at University College Hospital, Galway.
Gerald Dawe
School of English, Trinity College, Dublin.

By assembling twenty-four poets of the post-Heaney, Mahon, Ní Chuilleaná in, Durcan, Muldoon et al. generation The Watchful Heart composes a profile of the ongoing state of Irish poetry. Biographically and bibliographically useful, the anthology is especially illuminating for the variety of its lyric and narrative voices (in Irish and English), as well as for the exuberant vitality of its poets' personal essays, that between them reveal poetry as "the rapt register of the world." Full of poetic thinking at work and at play, the collection richly illustrates the range, humour, and creative health of this new, by now mature, generation of Irish poets.
Eamon Grennan
Poet and Critic

This is an important and valuable anthology solely as a judicious selection of recent work by established younger Irish poets. The short essays the writers include on their motivations and methods, and on the current functions and place of poetry, make it indispensible. Joan McBreen's deft compilation offers a rich and provocative snapshot of what she calls the emerging "conversation" in the "long and often vexed tradition" of Irish poetry.
James Pethica
Director, TheYeats Summer School, Sligo and Williams College MA.

This anthology of poets, the majority of them born in the Sixties and several of whom are already seasoned voices, provides a showcase of the broad range and diversity of talents to have emerged from that generation ? one that, on the evidence here, has kept faith unreservedly in the lasting power of the traditional lyric form. Each accompanying essay or commentary adds to what the poems tell us about the aesthetic of individual poets in ways that are both illuminating and rewarding for the reader. The Watchful Heart is ample testimony to the craft and imagination of this "new generation" and, importantly, it demonstrates how that generation has contributed to yet another season of renewal in Irish poetry.
Gerard Smyth
Poet and Managing Editor, The IrishTimes.

The Long Light on the Land (CD)

The Long Light on the Land The Long Light on the Land is a selection of Joan McBreen's poetry read to a background of traditional Irish airs and classical music on CD.

It was launched at the 45th Yeats International Summer School in Sligo on Thursday, August 5th, 2004 by Professor Bernard O'Donoghue.

"It is unusual for a poet´s spoken voice to match perfectly the voice and temper of their poems. But Joan McBreen´s compact disc is a delight from start to finish because the warmth of her voice and the evocative poetry of place that she delights in are perfectly attuned to the musical settings". Bernard O'Donoghue read more...