Fallon, Peter

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FALLON, Peter


Nationality: Irish. Born: Osnabrück, West Germany, 26 February 1951. Education: St. Gerard's School, Glenstal Abbey; Trinity College, Dublin, B.A. (honors) 1975. Career: Since 1970 editor and publisher, Gallery Press, Dublin. Since 1980 fiction editor, O'Brien Press, Dublin, and since 2000 Heimbold Professor of Irish Studies, Villanova University, Pennsylvania. Poet-in-residence, Deerfield Academy, Massachusetts, 1976–77, 1996–97. Co-editor, Ocarina. Awards: Irish Arts Council bursary, 1981; Meath Personality of the Year for Culture, 1987; O'Shaughnessy poetry award, Irish American Cultural Institute, 1993. Address: Gallery Press, Loughcrew, Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland.

Publications

Poetry

Among the Walls. Dublin, Tara Telephone, 1971.

Co-incidence of Flesh. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1972.

The First Affair. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1974.

Finding the Dead. Deerfield, Massachusetts, Deerfield Press, 1978.

The Speaking Stones. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1978.

Winter Work. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1983.

The News and Weather. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1987.

Eye to Eye. Loughcrew, Oldcastle, Gallery Press, 1992.

News of the World: Selected Poems. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University Press, 1993.

Other

Essentials of Writing: A Programmed Text in English Grammar and Syntax. Malvern, E-W Commercial Publications, 1992.

Editor, New and Selected Poems by Brendan Kennelly. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1976.

Editor, A Farewell to English by Michael Hartnett. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1978.

Editor, The Headgear of the Tribe: Selected Poems by Desmond O'Grady. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1979.

Editor, The First Ten Years: Dublin Arts Festival Poetry. Dublin, Dublin Arts Festival, 1979.

Editor, with Seán Golden, Soft Day: A Miscellany of Contemporary Irish Writing. Dublin, Wolfhound Press, and Notre Dame, Indiana, University of Notre Dame Press, 1980.

Editor, The Writers: A Sense of Ireland: New Work by 44 Irish Writers. Dublin, O'Brien Press, and New York, Braziller, 1980.

Editor, After the Wake: 21 Prose Works by Brendan Behan. Dublin, O'Brien Press, 1981.

Editor, The Second Voyage by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. Dublin, Gallery Press, and Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1986.

Editor, with Derek Mahon, The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry. London, Penguin, 1990.

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Critical Studies: "A Miscellany of Contemporary Irish Writing by Peter Fallon and Sean Golden" by Knute Skinner, in Concerning Poetry (Bellingham, Washington), 14(2), fall 1981; "Peter Fallon: Contemporary Irish Poet, Editor, and Publisher" by Jerry B. Lincecum, in Notes on Modern Irish Literature (Butler, Pennsylvania), 3, 1991; "Chosen Home: The Poetry of Peter Fallon" by Eamon Grennan, in Eire-Ireland (St. Paul, Minnesota), 29(2), summer 1994.

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Peter Fallon has taken to heart more than any other Irish writer Patrick Kavanagh's rather Polonian observations about the virtues of the parochial: writers who take their material from their own parish are true to their experience, and they offer the world a knowledge in detail to which it otherwise could not have access. Fallon has always rooted his poetry in the events, personalities, and language of his home terrain in County Meath, and his 1978 collection, The Speaking Stones, defeats all charges of the dangers of provincialism. Fallon's 1987 volume, The News and Weather, is a triumphant justification of his concentration on what he has called, in an Irish idiom, his "care"—the things that it falls to him to look after.

Fallon's career suggests a paradox. His early work tries too hard to draw the universal moral from the stories in his world and consequently seems too narrow an expression of the poet's view; his later work is much simpler and never forces the moral, leaving an air of universality to be inferred. The poems in The Speaking Stones are both too long and too elaborate; there is simply too much fact in them for direct impact. For example, too many details of the arcane arts of water divining are itemized in "Finding the Dead," dissipating the impact of its strongest lines:

   In time the unfound dead
   will gather in the maps.

Winter Work, published in 1983, displays far more compression and a new imaginativeness, as in the hideous surrealism of "Water-Dogs," about the traditional Irish country practice of drowning unwanted dogs. When the sheepdogs who attack sheep are caught,

   they're put to water, rounding fishes,
   long sleep and dreams of cold-blooded killings.

There is a metaphorical resonance here, a sense of something beyond the letter of the narrative that Fallon's earlier work does not often suggest. Winter Work also takes up the charge of provincial narrowness and argues with it as expressly as a poet dares in the poem "The Lost Field," which can be read as a gloss on Kavanagh's case for parochialism:

   Think of all that lasts. Think of land …
 
 
   Imagine the world
   the place your own windfalls could fall.
 
 
   I'm out to find that field, to make it mine.

Fallon is serving notice here of his determination to proceed in the same vein. Yet the style of The News and Weather marks an enormous advance. It is a shorter book, made up of short poems, but its impact is much more forceful. The same strange stories are told but with a new force that comes from understatement. Both the expansiveness of The Speaking Stones and the tendency of Winter Work to draw on Gaelic poetry, not always usefully, have been dropped. Fallon is suddenly his own man, with confidence in himself. The pared-back brevity serves his purposes, and the formal structures (sonnets, quatrains), which in earlier work occasionally seem forced and an end in themselves, are now a perfect container for his humorous wisdom poems. Even a punch line poem like "The Late Country," which Fallon, who is a celebrated reader of poetry, performs to great humorous effect, uses local idiom with classical epigrammatic terseness:

   He is drinking to forget.
   He has yet to learn that bad beats worse.

But the intimations of universality in the local are everywhere here. In "Caesarean," about the deaths of twin lambs, he writes,

   We knelt close to hear a heart,
   heard our own and thought it one of theirs.

Local references add to the storehouse of language, but they do not diminish their subjects. It may not be too sophistical to suggest that the charge of provincialism against Fallon is itself evidence of a fear of narrowness. Such fear has often led to a desperate wish for cosmopolitanism in Irish writing, but such a cultivated style would be unconvincing.

Fallon has the virtue of writing about what he knows best. When his subjects are allowed to carry the weight, as in the two haunting poems about the Irish disaster of unwanted pregnancy, Fallon has more to teach than writers of more declared ambition.

—Bernard O'Donoghue

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Fallon, Peter

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