t. 94, Majella Cullinane, Whisper of a Crow’s Wing

  Whisper of a Crow’s Wing by Majella Cullinane.
Dunedin: OUP (2017). www.otago.ac.nz/press
RRP: $27.50. Pb, 88pp.
ISBN: 97819885312299.
Reviewed by S J Mannion.

Majella Cullinane is a prize-winning Irish/New Zealander poet living in New Zealand since 2008.  She lives with her partner and son in Port Chalmers. Whisper of a Crow’s Wing is her second book of poetry.[1]

I came to this book with a kind of greed, an anticipatory relish and hunger.  Having read her previous collection I knew her to be a poet of some stature and style.[2]  So I had ‘great expectations’ – they were exceeded.  This work is quite astoundingly good.  Better.  This is a poet at the very apex of ability with an unerring aim. Though her targets range wide and variously, at times she narrows down her sights (in a simply perfect description),


I know it’s her,

sitting among the driftwood and broken shell,

the colour of her dress

a kind of drenched grey, her hair parted

in the centre, her waist as small as a child’s

(“On Meeting Jane Eyre at Paekākāriki Beach”, p 14).


and at others she broadens it (in a prayer almost or a mantra),


What cannot be viewed in its entirety inhabits substance

just like the hills turning their backs to us now,

shy of the sun and exposure,

which like hope or faith given time will inch forward,

to reveal itself despite protestations.  (“Drive”, p 32).


Cullinane hits the bullseye every time.

In each piece there is a sense of culmination, of a story crafted. The entire shape of it, too. These ‘4 quartets’ (separately named divisions) bring to my mind both the seasonal passage of time, or time again and of course T S Eliot’s collection of that name where he writes of the necessary search for connection – with others and with nature.  ‘For a further union, a deeper communion …’  (“East Coker”, line 389). Cullinane seeks and seems to find the same throughout.


… all those hearts passing by,

stifled by flesh and bone, stalking the edges of themselves,

each complicit in their own wisdom or tomfoolery? (“Vespers”, p 62).


And then that last line, in that same poem, sage and sonorous: ‘… nothing is concealed from us if we listen long enough.’  . It is the ‘ruby in the Guinness’ – the deep glint of light that colours the darkness.

There is a subtle and sophisticated sense of play here too, kinder than glee, but with a flavour of that impish wit.


… a thrush

sifts through woodchips

like a burglar

rifling through drawers. (“Lauds”, p 58).


A well-produced book and an accomplished and wonderful collection that will nourish and sustain.  Many of Cullinane’s lines linger still, and I hope always will.



[1] See also:  Guarding the Flame, Salmon Poetry (2011). Cullinane was the recipient of the Robert Burns Fellowship 2014 and Sir James Wallace Trust in 2017.

[2] Guarding The Flame (2011).


Sile J Mannion is a published poet. She comments: ‘I’m an Irish writer transplanted to Christchurch.  When I can, I write and when I can’t, I read’.