McAuley, James J(ohn)
McAULEY, James J(ohn)
Nationality: Irish. Born: Dublin, 8 January 1936. Education: Clongowes Wood College, 1948–53; University College, Dublin, 1960–62, B.A. 1962; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, 1966–68, M.F.A. 1971. Family: Married 1) Joan McNally in 1958 (divorced 1968), three children; 2) Almut R. Nierentz in 1968, two children; 3) Deirdre O'Sullivan in 1982, one son. Career: Journalist, Electricity Supply Board, Dublin, 1954–66; lecturer, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, 1965–66; graduate assistant, University of Arkansas, 1966–68; assistant professor and director of the creative writing program, Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, 1968–70. Assistant professor, 1970–73, associate professor, 1973–78, director of the creative writing program, 1972–76, 1978–80, 1984–86, 1990–92, and professor of English, 1978–98, Eastern Washington University, Cheney. Since 1978 director, Summer Writing Workshop, Dublin, Ireland. Art critic, Kilkenny Magazine, Dublin, 1960–66; associate editor, Poetry Ireland, Dublin, 1962–66; arts consultant, Hibernia National Review, Dublin, 1964–66; book reviewer, Irish Times, Dublin, 1964–66; reporter, North West Arkansas Times, Fayetteville, 1967. Since 1978 editor, Dolmen Press, Dublin. Since 1993 director, Eastern Washington University Press. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1972. Address: Department of English, Eastern Washington State University, Cheney, Washington, 99004, U.S.A.
Observations. Blackrock, Ireland, Mount Salus Press, 1960.
A New Address. Dublin, Dolmen Press, London, Oxford University Press, and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour, 1965.
Home and Away. Privately printed, 1974.
After the Blizzard. Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1975.
The Exile's Recurring Nightmare. San Francisco, Aisling Press, 1975.
Recital: Poems 1975–1980. Portlaoise, County Laoighis, Dolmen Press, 1982.
The Exile's Book of Hours. Lewiston, Idaho, Confluence Press, 1982.
Coming and Going: New and Selected Poems 1968–1988. Fayetteville, University of Arkansas Press, 1989.
The Revolution (produced Dublin, 1966).*
Critical Studies: Review in Hibernia (Dublin), 1970; Choice edited by Michael Hartnett and Desmond Egan, Dublin, Goldsmith Press, 1970, revised edition, 1979.
James J. McAuley comments:
My first book, Observations, consists of sixteen confessional lyrics, very young poems, imitative, private. A New Address is the offspring of my two-year love affair with Roget's Thesaurus: poems resulting from my preoccupation with words, their sounds and associations. Draft Balance Sheet resulted from my two-year study of poetry and poetics under James Whitehead at Arkansas. After the Blizzard is a collection of love poems, satires, narratives, and monologues. The Revolution is a satire on Easter 1916 and its end result, the modern Irish state. Recital is a collection of varied work over five years. The Exile's Book of Hours follows the pattern of the medieval prayer books.
(1995) Coming and Going attempts a reprieve of my preoccupations with language and technique over twenty years and of my obsession with revision. It is not always very helpful for authors to comment on the subjects of their poems, but a new and selected volume tends to reveal, even to the poet, a recurrent pattern to do with the tension between the life of the spirit and life in the world.* * *
Although James J. McAuley has lived as long in the United States as in his native Ireland, there is about his poetry, despite notable forays into American politics, popular culture, and vernacular, a consistent and recognizably Irish timbre. The basso continuo of his poetry, to use another musical term (for McAuley himself is exultantly appreciative of Brahms, Handel, and Dvořák), sounds a speculative, scholastic tone appropriate to one who, like that most famous of Irish schoolboys, attended Clongowes Wood. In Coming and Going: New and Selected Poems 1968–1988, for example, McAuley writes a number of aor s, poems that are derived from an old Gaelic form for lampoon, satire, or personal attack. The invective expressed in "Against the Ingrate, Who Abused Our Hospitality" unmasks the all-too-familiar unwelcome guest who masquerades as a lost soul:
Now you lean over suicide's precipice
Till a few murmurs reach you: Ah, don't
This you take for applause.
Now the Wronged Artist—what an act!
What a go-boy you are—what a chancer!
Every favor you accept as your due;
You judged us all in the fixed
Lens of your own condition,
Immured in trickery, neck-deep
In bad luck and cosmic sorrow.
The demystifying attitude is a consistent feature of McAuley's poetry, one familiar to readers of Irish literature, who can detect similar tones of sly appraisal, comic debunking, or cautious suspicion in writers from Joyce to Trevor. McAuley is obviously conscious of the sense of remove that imprints his poetry. He often writes of himself as the exile and has two collections (The Exile's Recurring Nightmare and The Exile's Book of Hours) that chronicle a prevailing sense of dispossession. At times in McAuley's poetry the object of evaluation is reversed so that what is debunked are the poet's own initial desires. In "Examination," for example, the conventional scenario of the lust-ridden professor and the pliant student is comically interrupted by the sardonic realization that for the straining young woman "this easy test /on Medea brings you grief. /With all these treasures blessed, /You still will make an F."
In many respects McAuley's chief skill is to depict a scene that is commonplace enough but then to use the course of the poem to darken incrementally, and often imperceptibly, the original. In "Love & Death in the Flowershop" the grinning plaster elf is transformed into a menacing death god as the poem turns from an erotic, Renaissance romp of love among the seeds into an inverted myth of rape, in which, at the denouement,
I'll tackle her in the azaleas, hey nonny no.
I'll plant, she'll scream, I'll dig, she'll squirm, I'll sow;
& just then the Elf in his quaint nightcap will arrive
To turn me into a climbing vine, whose leaves
Are evergreen, but darken when I grieve.
Both "Examination" and "Love & Death in the Flowershop" are from McAuley's 1975 publication After the Blizzard, which won for the poet the Washington Governor's award and is perhaps the strongest collection of his poetry. Part of what is most impressive about the collection is McAuley's skillful and revitalizing use of traditional forms, particularly the sonnet, terza rima, monologue, and rondel. Many of the finest poems in the collection are not satiric aor s but rather contribute in registers of different tones to the sense that McAuley is always writing against something.
In the opening and closing poems of the collection, as well as in "After the Blizzard," McAuley writes around the unnameable: the forces of momentary disintegration, of frightening disorientation, and of the fearsome, hidden beasts that menace. In the collection's first poem, "Oh, Bad: or, Morning Song," rituals of careless kindness guard against the daily futilities that themselves threaten to become habitual. In "After the Blizzard" the insomniac's dismay is similarly alleviated through the child's sleeping breath and a remembered half line of poetry. In the collection's last poem, "The Path," the narrative describes an unidentified beast whose "black form on the long ridge" becomes a snarling, leaping attack. The journey of the tracking party that sets out but does not find the beast becomes a metaphysical lesson on what will "always be there" and cannot be lived without. McAuley's poems are always eloquently vigilant of the "dark beyond our lights."