Kennelly, Brendan 1936–

views updated

Kennelly, Brendan 1936–

(Timothy Brendan Kennelly)

PERSONAL:

Born April 17, 1936, in Ballylongford, County Kerry, Ireland; son of Timothy (a pub keeper) and Bridget Kennelly; married Margaret O'Brien, 1969 (divorced); children: one daughter. Education: Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), B.A., 1961, M.A., 1963, Ph.D., 1966. Religion: Catholic.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Dublin, Ireland.

CAREER:

Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, lecturer in English literature, 1963-69, associate professor of English, 1969-73, chairman of English department, 1973-76; professor of modern literature, 1973-2005.

Guildersleeve Professor, Barnard College, 1971; Cornell Professor of Literature, Swarthmore College, 1971-72; Burns visiting professor, Boston College, 2007.

AWARDS, HONORS:

A.E. Memorial Prize for Poetry, 1967; Critics Special Harvey's Award; American-Ireland Literary Award, 1999.

WRITINGS:

POETRY

(With Rudi Holzapfel) Cast a Cold Eye, Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1959.

(With Rudi Holzapfel) The Rain, the Moon, Dolmen Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1961.

(With Rudi Holzapfel) The Dark about Our Loves, John Augustine (Dublin, Ireland), 1962.

(With Rudi Holzapfel) Poems, Green Townlands, University Bibliographical Press (Leeds, England), 1963.

Let Fall No Burning Leaf, New Square Publications (Dublin, Ireland), 1963.

My Dark Fathers, New Square Publications (Dublin, Ireland), 1964.

Up and at It, New Square Publications (Dublin, Ireland), 1965.

Collection One: Getting up Early, Figgis & Co. (Dublin, Ireland), 1966.

Good Souls, to Survive, Figgis & Co. (Dublin, Ireland), 1967.

Dream of a Black Fox, Figgis & Co. (Dublin, Ireland), 1968.

Selected Poems, Figgis & Co. (Dublin, Ireland), 1969, Dutton (New York, NY), 1972.

A Drinking Cup: Poems from the Irish, Figgis & Co. (Dublin, Ireland), 1970.

Bread, Tara Telephone (Dublin, Ireland), 1971.

Love Cry, Figgis & Co. (Dublin, Ireland), 1972

Salvation, the Stranger, Tara Telephone (Dublin, Ireland), 1972.

The Voices, Gallery Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1973.

Shelley in Dublin, Dublin Magazine Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1974, revised edition, Beaver Row Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1982.

A Kind of Trust, Gallery Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1975.

New and Selected Poems, Gallery Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1976.

Islandman, Profile Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1977.

The Visitor, St. Beuno's Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1978.

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

A Small Light, Gallery Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1979.

The Boats Are Home, Gallery Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1980.

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

Cromwell: A Poem, Beaver Row Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1983; reprinted, Bloodaxe Books (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1987.

Moloney up and at It, illustrated by John Verling, Mercier Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1984.

(With Thomas Kinsella and John Montague) Myth, History, and Literary Tradition, Dundalk Arts (Dundalk, Ireland), 1989.

A Time for Voices: Selected Poems, 1960-1990, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1990.

The Book of Judas, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1991.

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

Poetry My Arse: A Poem, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1995.

Words for Women, Poetry Ireland (Dublin, Ireland), 1997.

The Singing Tree, Abbey Press (Newry, Ireland), 1998.

The Man Made of Rain, Bloodaxe (Northumberland, England), 1999.

Begin, Bloodaxe (Northumberland, England), 2000.

Glimpses, Bloodaxe (Northumberland, England), 2001.

The Little Book of Judas, Bloodaxe (Northumberland, England), 2002.

Martial Art, Bloodaxe (Northumberland, England), 2003.

Familiar Strangers: New & Selected Poems, 1960-2004, Bloodaxe (Northumberland, England), 2004.

Now, Bloodaxe (Northumberland, England), 2006.

EDITOR

(And author of introduction) The Penguin Book of Irish Verse, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1970, 2nd edition, 1981.

Ireland, Past and Present, Gill & Macmillan (Dublin, Ireland), 1986.

(With Patrick Murray) Treasury of Irish Religious Verse, Crossroad (New York, NY), 1986.

Landmarks of Irish Drama, Methuen (London, England), 1988.

Love of Ireland: Poems from the Irish, Mercier Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1989.

(With A. Norman Jeffares) Joycechoyce: The Poems in Verse and Prose of James Joyce, Kyle Cathie (London, England), 1992.

Between Innocence and Peace: Favourite Poems of Ireland, Mercier Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1993.

(With Katie Donovan and A. Norman Jeffares) Ireland's Women: Writings Past and Present, Gill & Macmillan (Dublin, Ireland), 1994.

(With Katie Donovan) Dublines, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1996.

OTHER

The Crooked Cross (novel), Figgis & Co. (Dublin, Ireland), 1963, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1964.

The Florentines (novel), Figgis & Co. (Dublin, Ireland), 1967.

(Author of text) Real Ireland: People and Landscape: Photographs, Salem House (Salem, NH), 1984.

Euripides' Medea: A New Version (drama; produced in Dublin, Ireland, 1990), Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1991.

Euripides' The Trojan Women: A New Version (drama; produced in Dublin, Ireland), Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1993.

Journey into Joy: Selected Prose, edited by Åke Persson, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1994.

(Translator) Federico Garcia Lorca, Blood Wedding, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1996.

Sophocles' Antigone: A New Version, Bloodaxe Books (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1996.

When Then Is Now: Three Greek Tragedies (contains Euripides' Medea: A New Version, Euripides' The Trojan Women: A New Version, and Sophocles' Antigone: A New Version), Bloodaxe (Northumberland, England), 2006.

ADAPTATIONS:

Living Ghosts: Poems by Brendan Kennelly (sound recording), Livia, 1982.

SIDELIGHTS:

Brendan Kennelly is a celebrated Irish poet who has also distinguished himself through his novels, plays, translations, and modern versions of classic dramas such as Antigone and Medea. Although some critics have characterized Kennelly's writing as overly facile, he is more often praised for his solid rhythmic forms, the assurance with which he handles a great variety of voices, and the interesting range of his subject matter. His poems cover everything from the small details of daily life in Ireland to the notion of human failure in its many incarnations. Furthermore, asserted an essayist for Contemporary Poets, his craftsmanship is "impeccable." He has shown himself to be as comfortable with sonnets, villanelles, and other formal structures as he is with free verse. Kennelly has, in that writer's opinion, "produced telling, and frequently very beautiful, analyses of both the specifically Irish and the universal human experience."

One of Kennelly's most renowned works is Cromwell: A Poem, a collection of more than 250 lyrics presenting the story of Oliver Cromwell, the Englishman who invaded Ireland. It is, according to Terry Eagleton in Stand, "a fantastic melange of past and present, fictional and historical personages in the manner of [James Joyce's] Finnegans Wake or the best of Flann O'Brien." Cromwell is portrayed as an egomaniac who believes himself to be chosen by God; at times he is placed in his historically correct era, the seventeenth century, while in other poems he is embodied in contemporary characters who seek to transform Ireland into a progressive, industrial nation. Cromwell can take on the tone of "knockabout farce and outrageous fantasy," stated Eagleton, "but there's a dark side to the volume too, and an attractive range of tones and styles in these alternately stark, jocose and sardonic pages." He concluded that while not uniformly successful, Cromwell is still "a boldly imaginative conception which deserves to command attention."

Kennelly again used a historical personage as the starting point for a collection of verses in the 1992 publication, The Book of Judas. Like Cromwell, The Book of Judas is a lengthy meditation on evil; but in the opinion of Booklist contributor Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Judas is "more profound," for while Cromwell was apparently doing what he perceived to be right, Judas, the betrayer of Jesus Christ, acted with full consciousness and evil intent. In more than 500 poems, Kennelly probes the inevitability of betrayal in its myriad forms, and the possibility that evil is necessary in order to keep goodness alive. The verses include dialogues between heaven and hell, scenes of meals taken with Jesus, images of Adolf Hitler, and, as usual in Kennelly's work, visions of Irish life, past and present. Monaghan rated The Book of Judas a "masterwork," and Observer critic Adam Thorpe called the voice of Judas "loquacious and cunning, superbly alive and startling." Fred Beake, a writer for Stand, found The Book of Judas both energetic and crude, overblown and yet full of fine moments. "A lot of very real issues are addressed with vigour, humour and not a little spleen, even if the individual poems do vary greatly in their quality," stated Beake. "Readers should be warned … that this is not a nice book. Imagine something of [Roman satiric poet] Juvenal and [Irish author Jonathan] Swift at their grossest, with something of [English writer William] Langland thrown in, and you will not go far wrong."

The poet continued his prolific output with Poetry My Arse: A Poem, a collection of more than 350 poems centering around a clever yet failed Dublin poet named Ace de Horner. In another Booklist review, Monaghan enthused, "Not since Joyce has an Irish author so captured the soul of Dublin and thereby of Ireland." Kennelly again created something fresh and new with the 1999 collection, The Man Made of Rain, inspired by Kennelly's near-death experience after open-heart surgery. The verses within The Man Made of Rain are "exquisite, almost hallucinogenic" depictions of visions, shown to Kennelly by a mysterious visitor, the man made of rain. "Kennelly's poetry has never been more passionate or more sensuous, never more full of life and paradox," asserted Monaghan. "This is poetry to read again and again. And again."

Reviewing Kennelly's Begin in World Literature Today, William Pratt felt that the collection "contains more endings than beginnings. He gives his poems such desperate names as ‘Hear the voice of the bomb’ and ‘The Destiny of Rats,’ to indicate the bitter mood that animates most of them…. Kennelly berates the world and himself over and over in this book." Monaghan wrote that the poems are reminiscent of the writings of Swift. She concluded that these poems that examine human frailty constitute "a fine, ripe collection."

Glimpses is a collection of epigrams, most four lines in length, but some longer. Monaghan wrote that "some are as delicate as haiku, others as broad-brushing as a bad joke." Pratt also reviewed this collection, saying: "If there is a common theme in this random assortment of biting comments and raunchy observations, it is general cynicism about the human race, and especially … the Irish."

The Little Book of Judas is a collection about half the size of The Book of Judas and contains several dozen poems written by Kennelly since the latter was published.

With Martial Art, Kennelly celebrates the wit of Roman epigrammatist Martial (40-104), who was a native of Spain and who may have been Celtic. Monaghan called the volume: "A perfect marriage, indeed."

Familiar Strangers: New & Selected Poems, 1960-2004 is a collection that represents four decades of Kennelly's brilliance. The volume is divided into four sections, and the one on history, for example, contains sonnets from Cromwell, as well as poems like "Freedom Fighter." Monaghan wrote that each of the sections "reads like a small, freestanding book," and concluded her review by describing Familiar Strangers as "an altogether rich, wild, demanding, and fulfilling collection."

Kennelly creates what Monaghan called "a kind of strange Irish haiku" in the poems of Now, each three lines of varying meters and lengths that end, like true haiku, with a surprise. In these poems Kennelly examines what "now" means in the context of stories, humor, sex, and our own lives.

When Then Is Now: Three Greek Tragedies contains Euripides' Medea: A New Version, Euripides' The Trojan Women: A New Version, and Sophocles' Antigone: A New Version, Kennelly's interpretations of the classics. Monaghan noted that of his generation of Irish poets, "Kennelly is the most feminist … speaking like Yeats in believably strong female voices." Monaghan noted that Kennelly's Greek women take on the qualities of Irish heroines in comparison to more classical interpretations.

Christina Patterson interviewed Kennelly for the Independent in 2005. She wrote that like many poets, "Kennelly has experienced more than his fair share of loneliness and pain. And, like many Irish writers before him, it started with the bottle and ended with the break-up of his marriage. For the past eighteen years he has lived alone in rooms at Trinity and has not had a drink. ‘I still wake up occasionally longing for a whisky,’ he says, ‘but I have managed to avoid it. But I understand anybody who goes back.’"

Kennelly retired from teaching that same year and lives in Dublin. He continues to be approached on the street by admirers who ask for a bit of verse, as well as detractors who, he told Patterson, would like to see him hanged. He is a private poet whose work is embraced by the public. Patterson wrote that this "has a great deal to do with the Irish view of poetry as an art form that straddles both spheres. ‘It's born in your solitude, or even in your loneliness,’ he confides, ‘but it can be shared in jovial situations. I've always thought keep your loneliness to yourself and share the joy.’"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Persson, Åke, Betraying the Age, Social and Artistic Protest in Brendan Kennelly's Work, University of Göteborg Press (Göteborg, Sweden), 2000.

Persson, Åke, This Fellow with the Fabulous Smile: A Tribute to Brendan Kennelly, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1996.

Pine, Richard, Dark Fathers into Light: Brendan Kennelly, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1994.

PERIODICALS

Agenda, autumn, 1996, review of Euripides' The Trojan Women: A New Version, p. 244.

Booklist, December 15, 1989, Patricia Monaghan, review of Love of Ireland: Poems from the Irish, p. 809; January 1, 1991, Patricia Monaghan, review of A Time for Voices: Selected Poems, 1960-1990, p. 903; March 15, 1992, Ray Olson, review of Euripides' Medea: A New Version, p. 1331; April 1, 1992, Patricia Monaghan, review of The Book of Judas, p. 1425; September 1, 1993, review of Breathing Spaces: Early Poems, p. 28; March 15, 1996, Patricia Monaghan, review of Poetry My Arse: A Poem, p. 1236; March 1, 1999, Patricia Monaghan, review of The Man Made of Rain, p. 1145; June 1, 2000, Patricia Monaghan, review of Begin, p. 1839; October 15, 2001, Patricia Monaghan, review of Glimpses, p. 375; January 1, 2003, Patricia Monaghan, review of The Little Book of Judas, p. 837; September 1, 2003, Patricia Monaghan, review of Martial Art, p. 47; February 15, 2005, Patricia Monaghan, review of Familiar Strangers: New & Selected Poems, 1960-2004, p. 1052; March 15, 2007, Patricia Monaghan, review of Now, p. 15; April 15, 2007, Patricia Monaghan, review of When Then Is Now: Three Greek Tragedies, p. 17.

Book Week, June 28, 1964, Chad Walsh, review of The Crooked Cross, p. 14.

Choice, February, 1989, review of Cromwell: A Poem, p. 940; June, 1992, W.W. de Grummond, review of Euripides' Medea, p. 1542.

Independent, February 4, 2005, Christina Patterson, "The Poetry Confessor," interview.

Irish Literary Supplement, fall, 1992, review of The Book of Judas, p. 18; spring, 1996, review of Poetry My Arse, p. 31.

James Joyce Quarterly, March 22, 1995, Sebastian D.G. Knowles, review of Joycechoyce: The Poems in Verse and Prose of James Joyce, p. 777.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1971, review of Selected Poems, p. 1241; June 15, 2000, review of Begin, p. 845.

Library Journal, April 15, 1964, Lloyd W. Griffin, review of The Crooked Cross, p. 1777.

New Yorker, July 11, 1964, review of The Crooked Cross, p. 92.

New York Times Book Review, August 2, 1964, review of The Crooked Cross, p. 30.

Observer, October 11, 1987, Peter Porter, review of Cromwell, p. 26; March 1, 1992, Adam Thorpe, review of The Book of Judas, p. 63.

Research & Reference Book News, June, 1994, review of Euripides' The Trojan Women, p. 41.

School Librarian, November, 1990, Colin Walter, review of A Time for Voices; May, 1993, review of Breathing Spaces, p. 70; February, 1996, review of Poetry My Arse, p. 28.

Stand, summer, 1988, Terry Eagleton, review of Cromwell, p. 67; winter, 1991, David McDuff, review of A Time for Voices; summer, 1992, Fred Beake, review of The Book of Judas, p. 64; winter, 1993, review of Breathing Spaces, p. 77.

Times Literary Supplement, November 9, 1967, review of Good Souls, to Survive, p. 1059; May 21, 1970, review of The Penguin Book of Irish Verse, p. 556; February 16, 1973, review of Salvation, the Stranger, p. 183; July 31, 1981, Edna Longley, review of The Penguin Book of Irish Verse, p. 888; July 28, 1989, Oliver Taplin, review of Euripides' Medea, p. 824; August 17, 1990, Giles Foden, review of A Time for Voices, p. 871; December 16, 1994, Patrick O'Sullivan, review of Journey into Joy: Selected Prose, p. 9; September 27, 1996, "Ireland's Women," p. 32; April 22, 2005, "Guff and Muscle," p. 22.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1991, Kieran Quinlan, review of A Time for Voices, p. 711; summer, 1992, review of The Book of Judas, p. 518; winter, 1994, review of Breathing Spaces, p. 132; summer, 1996, review of Poetry My Arse, p. 696; autumn, 2000, William Pratt, review of Begin, p. 818; spring, 2002, William Pratt, review of Glimpses, p. 165.

ONLINE

Irish Writers Online,http://www.irishwriters-online.com/ (November 30, 2007), profile.

About this article

Kennelly, Brendan 1936–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article