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Roche, Paul

ROCHE, Paul


Nationality: British. Born: India, 25 September 1916. Education: Gregorian University, Rome, Ph.B., Ph.L., S.T.L. 1949. Family: Married Clarissa Tanner; five children. Career: Instructor, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1957–59; poet-in-residence, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, 1972–74, Emory and Henry College, Emory, Virginia, spring 1980, Notre Dame University, Indiana, autumn 1980, and Albion College, Michigan. Grants Ferry Distinguished Lectureship, Centenary College, New Jersey, 1990–92. Abbe Copps Judge of Poetry Contest, Olivet College, Michigan, 1994. Awards: Bollingen Foundation fellowship, 1958; Alice Fay di Castagnola award, 1965; Alice Hunt Bartlett prize, 1966; Vogelstein Foundation fellowship, 1978. D.Litt.: Albion College. Commander, Military and Hospilaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem. Address: 5 Calle de Ampurias, Soller, Mallorca, Spain.

Publications

Poetry

The Rank Obstinacy of Things: A Selection of Poems. New York, Sheed and Ward, 1962.

22 November 1963 (The Catharsis of Anguish). London, Adam, 1965.

Ode to the Dissolution of Mortality. New York, Madison Avenue Church Press, 1966.

All Things Considered. London, Duckworth, 1966; New York, Weybright and Talley, 1968.

To Tell the Truth. London, Duckworth, 1967.

Te Deum for J. Alfred Prufrock. New York, Madison Avenue Church Press, 1967.

Lament for Erica. Bembridge, Isle of Wight, Yellowsands Press, 1971.

Enigma Variations and… Gloucester, Thornhill Press, 1974.

The Kiss. Richmond, Surrey, Keepsake Press, 1974.

A Visit to India. Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1998.

New Tales from Aesop. Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1999.

Fifty Poems. Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1999.

Recording: Death at Fun City, Mercury, 1972.

Plays

Medea, translation of the play by Euripides (produced New York, 1978). Included in Three Plays of Euripides, 1974.

Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone, translations of plays by Sophocles (produced New York, 1980).Screenplay: Oedipus the King, 1967.

Novels

O Pale Galilean. London, Harvill Press, 1954.

Vessel of Dishonour. London, Sheed and Ward, 1962; New York, New American Library, 1963.

Other

The Rat and the Convent Dove and Other Tales and Fables (for children). Aldington, Kent, Hand and Flower Press, 1952.

New Tales from Aesop for Reading Aloud. Notre Dame, Indiana, University of Notre Dame Press, and London, Honeyglen, 1982.

With Duncan Grant in Southern Turkey. London, Honeyglen, 1982.

The Bible's Greatest Stories. New York, Penguin, 1990.

Translator, The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles. New York, New American Library, 1958; revised edition, New York, Penguin, 1991.

Translator, The Orestes Plays of Aeschylus. New York, New American Library, 1963.

Translator, Prometheus Bound, by Aeschylus. New York, New American Library, 1964.

Translator, The Love Songs of Sappho. New York, New American Library, 1966; revised edition, New York, Penguin, 1991.

Translator, 3 Plays of Plautus. New York, New American Library, 1968.

Translator, Philoctetes, Lines 676–729, by Sophocles. Bembridge, Isle of Wright, Yellowsands Press, 1971.

Translator, with others, The Living Mirror: Five Young Poets from Leningrad. London, Gollancz, and New York, Doubleday, 1972.

Translator, Three Plays of Euripides: Alcestis, Medea, The Bacchae. New York, Norton, 1974.

Translator, The Complete Sophocles. New York, Penguin Putnam, 2000.

*

Critical Studies: By John Engels, in Minnesota Review (St. Paul), 1963; Patricia de Joux, in The Times (London), 5 January 1968; John Moffitt, in America (New York), May 1968.

Paul Roche comments:

(1970) There is always a sufficient reason even for the worst of happenings, and it is always sufficiently human. I say in my work, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do: and forgive me. " Poetry is awareness heightened to the point of love. It is a way of apprehending the intensity of being. I try to re-create experience more intensely, reduce it to a luminous whole, render intuitive the meaning and metaphysics of the universe, and so feed myself and others the kernel of being. My greatest influences have been the Bible (Authorized or Douay), Shakespeare, Hopkins, Eliot, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Sappho.

(1974) For me poetry is an incantation of exact experience that seizes the mind and the heart; it is the orchestration of language toward maximum perception; it is condensed verbal impact. Poetry and art are the unique channels through which knowledge is humanized, enters the bloodstream, is made part of ourselves. Although I write my poems to please myself, to purge myself, I am fully aware of using myself as the exemplar for all human beings, and so ultimately I write for humanity. However embedded in the particular consciousness (even confessional) of a poet his poem is, for me it is only successful if it reaches universality, which is to say, if anyone (or almost anyone—some people are just too bovine to bother with) picking up that poem is wounded, is hit, is illuminated, and can say, "This is about me. Or it may not exactly be about me, but I now know what it is like to be that person."

(1995) As to contemporary poetry, there is no doubt that never has there been a time when so many poets have been pouring out so many poems. And we have taken to heart Ezra Pound's injunction to write our poetry at least as well as we write our prose, so much so that a great deal of contemporary poetry is prose, but very good prose.

*  *  *

Although born in India and educated in England and at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he graduated in philosophy, Paul Roche has also lived in the United States, the West Indies, and Mexico. As a result of an outlook that has never been confined by national boundaries, he has never been unduly influenced by localized coteries, though profiting from them all, and his poetry is equally enjoyed in Britain and America. His skill as a translator had been fully exploited in his own creative writing so that even what he describes as "mere verse" has a liveliness and command of language lacking in the work of many other poets. Whether he writes about events or personal relationships, draws upon his impressive knowledge of mythology or religion, or makes use of private experience as a starting point for reflection upon the nature of things and the behavior of his fellows, he has a flair for spotlighting major issues in a playfully ironic and often humorous vein while also coming to grips with reality. One of his methods is to approach the metaphysical through the physical, and he has written a whole series of poems—"The Brick," "The Spent Matchstick," "The Hairbrush," and "The Nail-Scissors"—about inanimate objects.

Roche's "Act of Love" remains one of the most satisfactory poems ever written on such an intimate and delicate subject, and his "Paradigm of Love" is a remarkable example of wordplay used in a valid and effective manner:

Does love live
Only
As a mirror lives
And give
So much back
Only
As a mirror gives
Which gazes
Only
With what gazing gave
And gives
By gazing back
That only?

In To Tell the Truth Roche continues his somewhat hit-or-miss exploration of the significance of experience in a variety of styles, encompassing the satirical "Spring Song of the Petroleum Board Meeting," the amusing commentary on Eliot's poetry, "Te Deum for J. Alfred Prufrock," the lyrical "Her Love Longs for Tears," and a poem of protest entitled "The Lobotomy":

Oh God! The explosion that shook me up so,
That series of small deadly jolts
Dislocating me for one whole desiccated year,
And the sinister cutting away of something I didn't know …
How I wish I had gone on a real war,
had been shredded with shrapnel
Or lost half my head.

Enigma Variations and … is uneven too. Everything is thrown into the pot—wordplay, literary games, light verse, satire, paradox ("The hollow in the bowl /Present by its absence"), lyrics, lively sketches, serious comment—as if to illustrate the title, yet here and there insights seep through:

Everyone is walking with an inner space
Everyone is moving with an inner time
Everyone is growing with an inner change
Everyone is being with an inner pace
Walking, moving, growing, being
Within, beside, beyond, behind
From and to and in and through
Everyone is growing
Everyone is going
Everyone is coming, coming, coming
Everyone is...
Becoming.

Death at Fun City is a long satirical poem concerned with what man is making of his own environment. The poem shows Roche working toward greater freedom in his choice of form.

—Howard Sergeant

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