Grennan, Eamon 1941–
Grennan, Eamon 1941–
Born November 13, 1941, in Dublin, Ireland; son of Thomas P. (an educational administrator) and Evelyn Grennan; married Joan Perkins, 1972 (divorced, 1986); partner of Rachel Kitzinger (a college teacher); children: Kate, Conor, Kira. Ethnicity: "Irish." Education: National University of Ireland, University College, Dublin, B.A., 1963, M.A., 1964; Harvard University, Ph.D., 1973.
Poet, translator, and educator. Lehman College of City University of New York (CUNY), New York, NY, professor; Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, member of English faculty, 1974-2004, became Dexter M. Ferry, Jr., professor of English. Also served as Heimbold Professor of Irish Studies at Villanova University, 2002, and as adjunct professor at Columbia University.
Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, for What Light There Is and Other Poems; National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Award, 1991; Guggenheim fellowship, 1995; James Boatwright Poetry Prize, Shenandoah magazine, 1995; PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, 1997, for His Leopardi: Selected Poems; Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, American Academy of Poets, 2003, for Still Life with Waterfall. Has also received three Pushcart Prizes and a National Endowment for the Humanities award.
Wildly for Days (also see below), foreword by Derek Mahon, Gallery Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1983.
What Light There Is (also see below), Gallery Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1987.
Twelve Poems, Occasional Works (San Francisco, CA), 1988.
What Light There Is and Other Poems (contains Wildly for Days and What Light There Is; also see below), North Point Press (San Francisco, CA), 1989.
As If It Matters (also see below), Gallery Press (Oldcastle, Ireland), 1991, Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1992.
So It Goes (also see below), Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1995.
Relations: New & Selected Poems (contains What Light There Is and Other Poems, As If It Matters, and So It Goes), Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1998.
Selected and New Poems, Gallery Press (Oldcastle, Ireland), 2000.
Provincetown Sketches, Aralia Press (West Chester, PA), 2000.
Still Life with Waterfall, Gallery Press (Oldcastle, Ireland), 2001, Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 2002.
Poems (translated into Russian), Ars-Interpres (New York, NY), 2002.
The Quick of It, Gallery Press (Oldcastle, Ireland), 2004, Graywolf Press (Saint Paul, MN), 2005.
Out of Breath, Gallery Press (Oldcastle, Ireland), 2007.
(Editor, with James D. Brophy) New Irish Writing: Essays in Memory of Raymond J. Porter, Iona College Press (New Rochelle, NY), 1989.
(Translator) Selected Poems of Giacomo Leopardi, Dedalus (Dublin, Ireland), 1995, published as Leopardi: Selected Poems, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1997.
Facing the Music: Irish Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Creighton University Press (Omaha, NE), 1998.
(Translator, with Rachel Kitzinger) Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus/Sophocles, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to Turning Tides: Modern Dutch & Flemish Verse in English Versions by Irish Poets, Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1994.
Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, New Yorker, Nation, Threepenny Review, and New Republic.
Eamon Grennan is one of several Irish poets who, like Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, and Paul Muldoon, have lived in the United States and taught at American universities. As a result, Grennan's poems often focus on present-tense American experiences, past-tense Irish reminiscences, or a blend of these elements. Alfred Corn, in a review for Poetry, cited how Grennan's "authentic sources are Irish," and how he displays the "specific virtues the Irish bring with them—humanity, verbal fluency, and a convincing pastoralism." Richard Tillinghast, a contributor to the New England Review, stated that Grennan's work is characteristically Irish. Tillinghast added that the poet gives his work "a sense that life approaches at times the significance of ritual," by showing "the centrality in Irish life of the hearth," and by incorporating "the weather eye that the poet keeps out for presences other than the physical and earthly." These qualities, Tillinghast continued, give Grennan's poetry "a largeness, a generosity, an unforced openness to experience that affirms what we have in common rather than the barriers we erect to divide us."
Discussing the influence of Irish and American cultures on his poetry, Grennan told William Walsh in an interview for the Kenyon Review: "I admire, deeply, the three generations of great American work. I think post-romantic English poetry is American in certain ways: from the great first generation—Pound, Eliot, Stevens, to the next generation with Berryman, Lowell, Bishop—which I relished and was nourished by. It's that kind of natural nourishment that I feel feeds the poems in some way. I think what I bring to it from the Irish side may be a different feel for the musical, the lyrical in acoustical terms." Grennan also noted that his work has been greatly influenced by "the sound" of Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, stating: "Kavanagh offered … a great sense of the ordinary, and he mixed the spoken and the lyrical, too."
Grennan's poetry collections, including As If It Matters and Still Life with Waterfall, have garnered numerous honors and critical accolades. By depicting "things of the ordinary morning world," wrote Robert Schultz in the Hudson Review, Grennan "works toward moments of quiet epiphany." Ben Howard added in a review for Poetry, however, that in addition to Grennan's "eye for the elusive detail" is "an ear for the most reclusive sound," for, "like many Irish poets, bardic and modern, he is keenly aware of aural phenomena," as was his countryman James Joyce, "with whom he shares a love of the fabric of words." This emphasis on sound, as Bill Tremblay commented in an article for American Book Review, is Grennan's "most powerful element," using "assonance, internal rhyme, alliteration, oxymoron—a host of poetic devices in the context of free verse poems—to create a textured music." As a result, according to Edward Hirsch in a review for The New Republic, when Grennan writes, his "quiet, well-crafted poems are painterly, sensible, shapely; they are eager, unrhetorical, straightforward, melodic. They are never extreme."
Although Grennan published three books of poetry in Ireland between 1983 and 1988, it was not until his first American publication in 1989 of What Light There Is and Other Poems that American readers and critics began to notice his work, and they gave him "a rousing welcome," stated Laurel Blossom in a review for Small Press. The book collects together much of his early work, and is divided into three sections. The first section consists of Wildly for Days, Grennan's first book, which shows the influence of "the nature lyrics of the medieval Irish monks," Maurice Riordan commented in a review for the Times Literary Supplement, adding that Grennan "writes impressionistically of birds, beasts, flowers and the weather." Yet, Hirsch states, the work is balanced by a "central emotional sadness," which reflects the death of the poet's father and his own divorce and separation from his children. The middle section of What Light There Is and Other Poems is titled "A Single Window." Hirsch commented that "the thirteen intermediate poems" form "a kind of stylistic bridge" between the early poems in Wildly for Days and the later work in What Light There Is. Dillon Johnston, in a review for the Irish Literary Supplement, noted Grennan's use of a "window-view" that connects him with contemporary Irish women poets Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Medbh McGuckian. The third and title section of the collection comes from Grennan's earlier work, What Light There Is. Schultz stated that the poems in this section are "more fully developed, reaching broader levels of thematic significance, yet remaining grounded in close observation and strong feeling," according to Schultz.
Rand Brandes, a contributor to the Irish Literary Supplement, praised As If It Matters for Grennan's "experimenting with light—playing with (optical) illusions, magnifications, and distortions, which are often centered in the kitchen" and for including poems that "record the breakup of the family, which is paralleled by images of decomposition and destruction in nature," and "poems of celebration and discovery." As If It Matters is both balanced and framed by what Howard called "a pair of tender narrative poems." The first section, titled "Compass Readings," opens with "Two Climbing," a poem in which the poet and his twelve-year-old son from his first marriage go hiking in North Connemara, Ireland, "pleased with ourselves / at some dumb male thing for which / he finds the word: adventure," and which introduces what Brandes calls the central themes of the book: "defining oneself, familial continuity and discontinuity, and the regenerating powers of nature." Section two, titled "Things in the Flesh," ends with "Two Gathering," a poem in which the poet and his teenage daughter from his first marriage gather mussels to be eaten together, the meal and the hearth a continuity, and the gathering experience makes the poet feel "this wonderful abundance / offering itself up to us as if we were masters / of the garden, parts of the plenary sphere / and circle, our bodies belonging / to the earth, the air, the water." In between are, Howard stated, "some thirty meditative-descriptive poems of medium length, most of them cast in the first-person, present-tense mode and many of them commemorating privileged moments." On the whole, As If It Matters is, Brandes stated, "a book of studied interiors and harsh exposures," in which Grennan "brilliantly affirms" for his readers "the value of home," and "the need to take care of what we have."
In So It Goes, Grennan considers midlife: "There comes in middle life a moment / when everything is very solid / and seems to stand foursquare / in its own hard, uncompromising light." Louis McKee, in a review for Library Journal, stated that Grennan is "pensive and expansive. His hard-won maturity and insight enable him to cast light on the shadows and reveal the everyday wonders hidden there." According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, Grennan "plumbs his personal heritage in these 40-plus poems," where the "forms are varied, stanza length ranging from three lines to 50," and the "tone is meditative and pliant." McKee remarked that Grennan's "appreciation of the small things makes these poems memorable."
Relations: New & Selected Poems contains more than eighty poems written between 1978 and 1995. In the volume, Grennan examines themes of memory, separation, and loss through such disparate subjects as Dutch art, butterflies, and the death of his mother. Works from What Light There Is and Other Poems, As If It Matters, and So It Goes are also included in this collection. Howard, in another review for Poetry, stated that the poet's "capacity for sustained attention, so evident in his poems on nature, also informs his studies of intimate, marital, and filial relationships. Though sometimes elegiac, these poems celebrate the plenitude of experience and the ‘touched fullness’ of the present moment." "Of the various ways to be original," observed ForeWord contributor Jeff Gundy, "Grennan's is one of the more difficult; he devotes himself to patient, gracious exploration of the everyday."
Grennan received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the American Academy of Poets for his 2003 collection, Still Life with Waterfall. Many of the poems in this collection take the form of thirteen-line sonnets and explore the physical world and domestic relationships, focusing on moments suspended in time. According to Nation contributor Robert Wrigley, "there is hardly a poem in Still Life with Waterfall that does not offer as its triggering subject or as its structuring imagery the things of the natural world. You will find a field guide full of birds; dazzling meadows full of flowers; sun, moon, stars, rocks and the sea." Wrigley added that Grennan's "natural world bears a significant similarity to the late, great Theodore Roethke's. He is less boisterous (or even barbaric) than Roethke, but like Roethke, his attention to the natural world is a way of looking out in order to see inside. The subject may be as personal as romantic loss or disillusionment or nostalgia, but Grennan will find in the natural world the imagery to make such feelings palpable to a reader." Poetry critic Bill Christophersen praised Grennan's energetic and inventive language. "In some of the most distinctive poems in Still Life with Waterfall, personal narrative and lyrical occasion are one," Christophersen noted. "Such poems as ‘To Grasp the Nettle,’ ‘Signs,’ ‘Pulse,’ and ‘White Water’ transform erotic experience into song. Here registers of language elsewhere adopted to describe a plunging hawk and the aftermath of a storm are brought to bear on intimate subjects, the speaker's voice neither cracking nor bellowing in the process. Grennan is contemporary poetry's equivalent of a fine Irish tenor, and this collection showcases his range and musicality."
In The Quick of It, Grennan experiments with tightly composed, ten-line poems that "focus on the place and split second where and when the spiritual and physical worlds meet," commented Diane Scharper in a review for Library Journal. The untitled works in the volume "tend to rush along as irresistibly as the light, water, birdsong, weather, and other phenomena that they catch and translate into the music of vowels and consonants," remarked Mikhail Horowitz in Chronogram.
In a review of Relations, Howard praised Grennan's poetic gifts and observed, "Whether he is contemplating natural phenomena or studying a painting or limning the intricacies of personal relationships, Grennan's most distinctive attribute is his awareness of experience unfolding in the here and now. Within that awareness, his poems honor their central imperative: to ‘look / at what goes, where we stand in the midst of it.’"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Grennan, Eamon, As If It Matters, Gallery Press (Oldcastle, Ireland), 1991, Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1992.
Grennan, Eamon, Relations: New & Selected Poems, Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1998.
American Book Review, July, 1990, Bill Tremblay, review of What Light There Is and Other Poems, p. 30.
American Poetry Review, May, 2002, review of Still Life with Waterfall, p. 34.
Booklist, June 15, 1989, review of What Light There Is and Other Poems, p. 61; March 15, 1992, Patricia Monaghan, review of As If It Matters, p. 1331; November 1, 1995, Patricia Monaghan, review of So It Goes, p. 450.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, October, 1992, M.P. White, review of As If It Matters, p. 298.
Chronogram, April, 2006, Mikhail Horowitz, review of The Quick of It.
Cortland Review, August, 2000, Ben Howard, interview with Eamon Grennan.
ForeWord, September-October, 1998, Jeff Gundy, review of Relations.
Hudson Review, spring, 1990, Robert Schultz, review of What Light There Is and Other Poems, p. 143; autumn, 1992, James Finn Cotter, review of As If It Matters, p. 518.
Irish Literary Supplement, spring, 1988, Dillon Johnston, review of What Light There Is, p. 10; fall, 1992, Rand Brandes, review of As If It Matters, pp. 19-20; spring, 2003, Thomas O'Grady, "Grappling with Proteus," review of Still Life with Waterfall, p. 14.
Irish Times, October 27, 2007, John Burnside, review of Out of Breath.
Kenyon Review, summer, 2006, William Walsh, "When Language Fails: An Interview with Eamon Grennan."
Library Journal, June 15, 1989, Fred Muratori, review of What Light There Is and Other Poems, p. 61; March 15, 1992, Fred Muratori, review of As If It Matters, p. 92; November 15, 1995, Louis McKee, review of So It Goes, p. 79; August 1, 1998, Graham Christian, review of Relations, p. 96; September 1, 2002, Judy Clarence, review of Still Life with Waterfall, p. 180; February 15, 2005, Diane Scharper, review of The Quick of It, p. 135; April 15, 2006, Barbara Hoffert, "Best Poetry of 2005: Celebrate National Poetry Month with 17 Major Titles," review of The Quick of It, p. 80.
Midwest Book Review, December, 2002, review of Still Life with Waterfall; May, 2005, review of The Quick of It.
Nation, December 1, 2003, Robert Wrigley, "2003 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize," review of Still Life with Waterfall, p. 38.
New England Review, spring, 1993, Richard Tillinghast, review of As If It Matters, pp. 189-195.
New Republic, June 11, 1990, Edward Hirsch, review of What Light There Is and Other Poems, p. 39.
New Yorker, December 14, 1992, review of As If It Matters, p. 134.
Poetry, January, 1990, Alfred Corn, review of What Light There Is and Other Poems, pp. 287-289; January, 1993, Ben Howard, review of As If It Matters, pp. 233-234; April, 2000, Ben Howard, review of Relations, p. 29; April, 2003, Bill Christophersen, "The ‘I’ and the Beholder: Negotiating the Shoals of Personal Narrative," review of Still Life with Waterfall, p. 35.
Publishers Weekly, May 5, 1989, Penny Kaganoff, review of What Light There Is and Other Poems, p. 74; January 27, 1992, review of As If It Matters, p. 93; October 31, 1994, review of Turning Tides: Modern Dutch and Flemish Verse in English Versions by Irish Poets, p. 55; October 23, 1995, review of So It Goes, p. 65; May 27, 2002, review of Still Life with Waterfall, p. 53; April 18, 2005, review of The Quick of It, p. 59.
Small Press, summer, 1992, Laurel Blossom, review of As If It Matters, p. 52.
Times Literary Supplement (London, England), March 15, 1985, Maurice Riordan, review of Wildly for Days, p. 294.
Academy of American Poets Web site,http://www.poets.org/ (July 1, 2008), "Eamon Grennan," author information.
Alumnae & Alumni of Vassar College Web site,http://www.aavc.vassar.edu/ (autumn, 2004), Rachel Beck, "The Other Class of '04," author information.
Barcelona English Language and Literature Studies Web site,http://www.publicacions.ub.es/ (July 16, 2008), Jefferson Holdridge, review of Facing the Music: Irish Poetry in the Twentieth Century.