Selected Poems of Ned Kelly by Nathanael O’Reilly

About the Poet

Nathanael O’Reilly is an Irish-Australian poet; he teaches creative writing at The University of Texas at Arlington. His eight previous poetry collections include Boulevard (Beir Bua Press, 2021), (Un)belonging (Recent Work Press, 2020), BLUE (above/ground press, 2020), Preparations for Departure (UWAP, 2017) and Distance (Ginninderra Press, 2015). His poetry appears in over one hundred journals and anthologies published in fourteen countries, including Another Chicago Magazine, Anthropocene, Bealtaine Magazine, Cordite Poetry Review, The Elevation Review, Howl: New Irish Writing, New World Writing, Mascara Literary Review, Skylight 47, Trasna and Westerly. He is the poetry editor for Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature.



The poems in this collection were composed using only the words that appear in the following texts attributed to the legendary/notorious/infamous Irish-Australian bushranger Ned Kelly (1854-1880): The Jerilderie Letter, The Cameron Letter, The Babington Letter and The O’Loghlen Letter. The poems use Kelly’s spelling and mimic his punctuation and capitalization. This collection was partly inspired by Peter Carey’s novel True History of the Kelly Gang and Ian Jones’s biography, Ned Kelly: A Short Life, along with my own visits to many of the important places in Kelly’s short life (and settings for the poems). The collection attempts to answer a simple question: what if Ned Kelly wrote poetry? 


Widow’s Son

I am a widow’s son. Is my mother
And her infant baby and my poor little
Brothers and sisters not to be pitied?
She is well acquainted with Fitzpatrick

Who took a revolver and threatened to shoot
My mother in her own house, said he would
Blow her brains out if she interfered.
She told the trooper he had no business

On her premises and it was a good job
For him Ned was not there for he would ram
The revolver down his throat & my orders
Must be obeyed. It is only foolhardiness

To disobey an outlaw. This is well known
In Greta and yet the ungrateful articles
Convicted my mother and an infant
With their cruelty and disgraceful

And cowardly conduct I being then over
400 miles from Greta and my mother’s
House. I take the opportunity and give
Fair warning to all those who has reason

To fear me, and the enemy I cannot
Catch myself I shall give a payable
Reward for and them theirs and all belonging
To them exterminated off the face

Of the earth. I will not take innocent
Life if justice is given. Our country
Is woven with police and horrible
Disasters shall immediately follow.

Words of Praise

Borrow[ing]’ from Kelly’s letters, ‘Wombat[-]clever’ O’Reilly has moulded found poetry that is ‘Fearless free and bold’ as the Australian bushranger. His lines ‘gallop’ like the ‘Stallion[s] the greatest horsestealer borrow[ed].
 – Stuart Barnes. Poet. Like to the Lark (2023), Glasshouses (2016).

In Selected Poems of Ned Kelly, O’Reilly allows the famed outlaw’s inventive sentences room to breathe and perform anew the rebelliousness which ‘made the country ring / with the name of Kelly.’

Toby Davidson. Poet and author of Good for the Soul: John Curtin’s Life with Poetry.

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