Brendan Kennelly, poet and critic, has been Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin since 1973. He was born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on April 17, 1936 and educated at St. Ita's in tarbert, at Trinity College, Dublin and at Leeds University, obtaining a Ph.D. in 1966 for a dissertation on "Modern Irish Poetry and the Irish Epic." He is one of the foremost contemporary Irish poets of his generation, with a frimly based international reputation, and has become respected as a vigorous and perceptive critic, an energetic playwright, and a prolific broadcaster.
Kennelly has been consistently focused as a poet on the way the past continually reemerges in the modern world, through language, events and affections. Committed to the craft of writing, which he sees as a vocation of self-discovery, he believes that 'we should have the courage to be faithful to our relatively few moments of intensity.' Kennelly has always courted the danger of over-expressiona and oversimplification, seeing poetry as a continual reflection on phenomena with which his imagination must engage.
The plethora and unevenness of his early work, the immense scale of conception and execution of his largest work, The Book of Judas (1991) [Add To Basket], and the verbal torrent of the writing in his plays such as Euripides' The Trojan Women [Add To Basket] belie the fact that his twin cliams to serious attention, by both critics and his fellow poets, rest chiefly on his mastery - and subversion - of the sonnet form, which he has placed at the service of his characteristic humour, compassion, and rage for justice and on his personal style, in which his work is informed by the rhythms, syntax, and vocabularies of his native townland.
If we disregard a hesitant and unconvincing start as a novelist with The Crooked Cross (1963) [
As a lyricist, Kennelly has progressed steadily with collections such as Love Cry (1972), A Kind of Trust (1975), and Islandman (1977), mapping out a personal and communal terrain of the affections. Poems such as 'Love Cry' and 'The Swimmer' celebrate the congurnece of nature and sexuality, while others like 'The Stammer' and 'The Blind Man' testify to his sense of pathos. His work is increasingly populated by living presences urgent to be voiced; recently, these have become more monstrous and dismaying, as Kennelly has explored the inequity, mendacity, and deviousness that reside in history and individual psyche. This achievement he calls 'being-at-home-in-strangeness.'
Moloney Up and At It (1965/1985) [Add To Basket] established the irreverence in the face of ancient pieties necessary for the poet to address the nightmares of history and conscience in Cromwell (1983-87) [Add To Basket] and The Book of Judas (1991) [Add To Basket], where he immersed himself in the most hated and reviled figures in the Irish and Christian calendars. Cromwell, which takes place entirely in the head of the Irishman Buffin, in particular unleashed a heated debate about the poet's view of Irish history, which tended to overshadow the larger issues of truthfulness to self and respect of, and for, others.
Meanwhile, the sequence 'A Girl' (commissioned in 1978 by RTE to be set to music by Irish composer Seoirse Bodley) focused his energies on Irish womanhood, an impulse that has subsequently been channeled into four plays, Sophocles' Antigone [Add To Basket], produced in 1986, Euripedes' Medea [Add To Basket] in 1988, Lorca's Blood Wedding [Add To Basket], written in 1990, and Euripedes' The Trogan Woman [Add To Basket], produced in 1993, all of which give voice to the 'rage'for a new order' and to the need of Irish men and women to engage imaginatively and psychically with one another.
As a critic, Kennelly has entered into debate about the status and purpose of poetry, which he sees as having a defining role in the modern world. Urging a sense of responsibility, he has condemned the 'pedestellisaiton of mindlessness' and 'thoughtless reaction.' His trenchant essays, including the lecture "Poetry and Violence" and a revelatory view of Yeats, "An Experiment in Living," are contained in his selected prose, Journey Into Joy(1994) [Add To Basket].
Kennelly's newest work, The Man Made of Rain (1998) [Add To Basket], is a remarkable new departure. It is a visionary work written out of the body, out of the self, out of the shadowlands between life and death. The poet himself has written about it: 'I had major heart surgery, a quadruple bypasss, in October 1996. The day after the operation I had a number of visions … I saw a man made of rain. He was actually raining, all his parts were raining slant-wise and firmly in a decisive, contained way. His rain-eyes were candid and kind, glowing down, into, and through themselves. He spoke to me and took me on journeys. His talk was genial, light and authoritative, a language wherever he decided to go, or was compelled by his own inner forces to go …
'He led me to different places such as my father's grave, inside my father's bones, the land of no-language, the place where scars are roads through difficult territories, provinces of history and memory, the place of cold, true cold, and what is that?
'The man made of rain would not leave me until I let his presence flow in the best and only poem I could write for him. Though I appear in the poem, or what I recognise as my "own" voice sound through it, the poem is essentially a homage to his presence, a map of his wandering discovereis, and an evidence of my inadequate witnessing of those discoveries and that presence. He is a real represence in the poem; I am more an absence longing to be a presence …'
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