Kennelly, (Timothy) Brendan

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KENNELLY, (Timothy) Brendan

Nationality: Irish. Born: Ballylongford, County Kerry; 17 April 1936. Education: St. Ita's College, Tarbert, County Kerry; 1948–53; Trinity College, Dublin, B.A. (honors) in English and French, 1961, M.A. 1963, Ph.D. 1967; Leeds University. Family: Married Margaret O'Brien in 1969; one daughter. Career: Junior lecturer, 1963–66, lecturer, 1966–69, associate professor, 1969–73, and since 1973 professor of modern literature, Trinity College, Dublin. Guildersleeve Professor, Barnard College, New York, 1971; Cornell Professor of English Literature, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, 1971–72. Awards: AE Memorial award, 1967; the Ireland Funds literary award, 1999. Address: Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.



Cast a Cold Eye, with Rudi Holzapfel. Dublin, Dolmen Press, 1959.

The Rain, The Moon, with Rudi Holzapfel. Dublin, Dolmen Press, 1961.

The Dark about Our Loves, with Rudi Holzapfel. Dublin, John Augustine, 1962.

Green Townlands, with Rudi Holzapfel. Leeds, Bibliographical Press, 1963.

Let Fall No Burning Leaf. Dublin, New Square, 1963.

My Dark Fathers. Dublin, New Square, 1964.

Up and At It. Dublin, New Square, 1965.

Collection One: Getting Up Early. Dublin, Allen Figgis, 1966.

Good Souls to Survive. Dublin, Allen Figgis, 1967.

Dream of a Black Fox. Dublin, Allen Figgis, 1968.

Selected Poems. Dublin, Allen Figgis, 1969; New York, Dutton, 1971.

A Drinking Cup: Poems from the Irish. Dublin, Allen Figgis, 1970.

Bread. Dublin, Tara Telephone, 1971.

Love-Cry. Dublin, Allen Figgis, 1972.

Salvation, The Stranger. Dublin, Tara Telephone, 1972.

The Voices: A Sequence of Poems. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1973.

Shelley in Dublin. Dublin, Dublin Magazine Press, 1974; revised edition, Dublin, Beaver Row Press, 1982.

A Kind of Trust. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1975.

New and Selected Poems, edited by Peter Fallon. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1976.

Islandman. Dublin, Profile Press, 1977.

The Visitor. Dublin, St. Beuno's Press, 1978.

A Small Light. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1979.

In Spite of the Wise. Dublin, Trinity Closet Press, 1979.

The Boats Are Home. Dublin, Gallery Press, 1980.

The House That Jack Didn't Build. Dublin, Beaver Row Press, 1982.

Cromwell. Dublin, Beaver Row Press, 1983; Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1987.

Moloney Up and At It. Dublin, Mercier Press, 1984.

A Time for Voices: Selected Poems 1960–1990. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1990.

The Book of Judas: A Poem. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1991.

Breathing Spaces: Early Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1992.

Poetry My Arse. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1995.

The Man Made of Rain. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1998.

The Singing Tree. Newry, Abbey Press, 1998.

Begin. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1999.

Recording: Living Ghosts: Poems by Brendan Kennelly, Livia, 1982.


Medea, adaptation of a play by Euripides (produced London, 1989). As Euripedes' Medea: A New Version. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1991.

Euripedes' The Trojan Women: A New Version. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1993.

Antigone, adaptation of a play by Sophocles (produced 1996).

Blood Wedding, adaptation of a play by Lorca (produced 1996).


The Crooked Cross. Dublin, Allen Figgis, 1963; Boston, Little Brown, 1964.

The Florentines. Dublin. Allen Figgis, 1967.


Real Ireland, photographs by Liam Blake. Belfast, Appletree, 1984; San Francisco, Chronicle, 1988.

Myth, History, and Literary Tradition, with Thomas Kinsella and John Montague. Dundalk, Dundalk Arts Publications, 1989.

Journey into Joy: Selected Prose. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1994.

Editor, The Penguin Book of Irish Verse. London, Penguin, 1970; revised edition, 1972, 1981.

Editor, Ireland Past and Present. Dublin, Gallery Press, and London, Macmillan, 1986.

Editor, Landmarks of Irish Drama. London. Methuen, 1988.

Editor, with A. Norman Jeffares, Joyce Choyce: The Poems in Verse and Prose of James Joyce. London, Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992.


Critical Studies: B.A. thesis by Antonella Ceoletta, University of Venice, 1973; M.Litt. thesis by Frances Gwynn, Trinity College, Dublin, 1974; "Poetry and Social Perspectives: Brendan Kennelly's Shelley in Dublin" by Erwin Otto, in Etudes Irlandaises (Villeneuve d'Ascq, France), 1, 1976; "Ireland's Antigones: Tragedy North and South" by Anthony Roche, in Cultural Contexts and Literary Idioms in Contemporary Irish Literature, edited by Michael Kenneally, Totowa, New Jersey, Barnes and Noble, 1988; "Poetic Forms and Social Malformations" by Edna Longley, in Tradition and Influence in Anglo-Irish Poetry, edited by Terence Brown and Nicholas Grene, Totowa, New Jersey, Barnes and Noble, 1989; "Brendan Kennelly, Instrument of Peace" by Bernetta Quinn, in Antigonish Review (Antigonish, Nova Scotia), 83, Autumn 1990; "Brendan Kennelly: Victors and Victims" by Gerard Quinn, in Irish Review, 9, Fall 1990; Dark Fathers into Light edited by Richard Pine, Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1994; "Betraying the Age: Brendan Kennelly's Mission" by Ake Persson, in Irish University Review, 26(1), Spring/ Summer 1996.

Brendan Kennelly comments:

I used to divide my poetry into rather facile categories, such as poems written about the countryside, poems written about the city, and poems that tried to express some sort of personal philosophy. I think now that such categories are false, and I believe instead that I select appropriate images from aspects of my experience and try to use them in such a way that they express what goes on within. This involves a continued struggle to discover and develop a proper language, carefully selected from the words of the world in which I live. There is this continual battle between civilized sluggishness and sharp seeing, seeing into. The poem is born the moment one sees into and through one's world and when one expresses that seeing into in a totally appropriate language. By totally appropriate, I mean a language of complete alertness. As I try to write, I know that I am involved in an activity that is a deliberate assertion of energy over indifference, of vitality over deadness, of excitement and ecstasy over dullness and cynicism. Yet the poem must take account of all these negatives. In fact, it must often use them as its raw material but, by a sort of dynamic, inner alchemy of language, rhythm, and image, transform those negatives into living forms.

*  *  *

Irish poet Brendan Kennelly's work is characterized by a great assurance of voice, by a certainty of rhythmic form, and by a wide range of subject matter. His craftsmanship is impeccable. A poem such as "The Feeding Dark" is an object lesson in the creative counterpointing of sentence and stanza structures. "Six of One" and "Law and Order" demonstrate two very different, but equally accomplished, uses of the sonnet. "The Singing Girl Is Easy in Her Skill" shows him using the villanelle for effects of great beauty and poignancy, and, to very different effect, the same form is employed in "And Who Will Judge the Judges in Their Time." Elsewhere his free verse is vigorous and controlled.

Among his characteristic subjects are the inevitability and variety of human failure ("The Cherrytrees," Shelley in Dublin, "In Spite of the Wise"), his Irish childhood ("The Brightest of All," "The Kiss"), Irish rural landscape and life ("The Pig-killer," "Killybegs," "Carrig"), the energy of animal life ("Dream of a Black Fox," "The Feeding Dark," "Outside the Church"), and the nature of invasion and colonization ("Six of One" and "The House That Jack Didn't Build"). Shelley in Dublin is not entirely successful as a public poem on, among other things, the relation of England and Ireland. (It deals with Shelley's revolutionary mission to Dublin in 1812). Unusually for Kennelly, there is some flatness of rhythm and a failure to vivify the personalities involved. "The House That Jack Didn't Build," on the other hand, is altogether more convincing. The two voices ("a man convinced of his own indisputable superiority and a man capable of being conquered, but also capable of resisting his conquerors") are dramatically alive, humorous, and moving by turns-

   I changed all the rooms.
   This took me quite a while.
   Visitors comment on their style.
   It's simple. I do everything well,
   Not exactly, to be fair, in a spirit of love
   But with a genuine desire to improve
   Others, particularly


   I have lost touch with my own language.
   Nothing is stranger to me than what is my own.
   I am an exile from myself.
   Words are stones in my mouth.The bones of my head are trampled on.

The capacity for the dramatic assumption of other voices, evidenced in "The House That Jack Didn't Build," lies behind the success of Kennelly's "Moloney" poems and sequences such as Islandman. He has spoken of the use of persona as "a method of extending the self by driving out the demons of embarrassment and inhibition." Both by this means and in more purely "personal" poems, Kennelly has produced telling, and frequently very beautiful, analyses of both the specifically Irish and the universal human experience.

—Glyn Pursglove

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Kennelly, (Timothy) Brendan

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