Biography of Dennis O'Driscoll
Dennis O'Driscoll is an Irish poet, essayist, critic, and editor born in Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland. Although not widely recognized in the United States, he is considered one of the best European poets of his time. In all, he has written eight books of poetry, two chapbooks, and a collection of essays and reviews. Additionally, much of O'Discoll's work has been inspire by his friend and mentor, Nobel Prize winner, Seamus Heaney.The majority of his works can be characterized by the use of economic language and the recurring motifs of mortality and the fragility of everyday life. As he ages, O'Driscoll's works become more fluid and thoughtful as well as more frequent, and, according to some sources, like Alan Brownjohn of The Sunday Times for instance, even though he is younger than some of the poetic greats, "at best he is already their equal."
Life and Career
Born on January 1, 1954 in Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland, O'Driscoll was the child of James and Catherine F., a salesman/horticulturist and a homemaker. He was educated by The Congregation of Christian Brothers and then attended the University of Dublin from 1972-75. After completing his secondary education, at age sixteen (1970), O'Driscoll was offered a job at Ireland's Office of the Revenue Commissioners the internal revenue and customs service. Specializing in "death duties, stamp duties, and customs," he was employed for over thirty years full-time. Later, in the 1970s and 80's, O'Driscoll held many part-time jobs and positions in association with his writing. He took, for instance, a position as part-time editor of Tax Briefing, a technical journal produced in Ireland, as well as reviewing poetry for Hibernia, and The Crane Bag. He also served on the council of the Irish United Nations Association from 1975-80. After this, he married Julie O'Callaghan, a writer, in September 1985.
In 1987, he temporarily became a writer-in-residence at the National University of Ireland. He has also served as editor of Poetry Ireland Review as well as two textbook anthologies entitled The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry, and Quote Poet Unquote. After thirty-eight years in Revenue, in early 2008, O'Driscoll was asked to write a poem marking the opening of the Revenue Museum in Dublin Castle, marking the first time his job and his art would intermingle. This poem, At The Revenue Museum, which was originally brought to life to be printed in a program for the opening ceremony, now hangs as an exhibit in the museum itself.
O'Driscoll stayed in the revenue business for as long as he did due to the advice of a colleague, who told him, "If you ever leave your job, you will stop writing." Thus, revenue became a sort of fall back option for him; a career that paid regularly and provided a pension. Whereas poetry was his art. Even so, in his memoir entitled, Sing for the Taxman, O'Driscoll states, "I have always regarded myself as a civil servant rather than a 'poet' or 'artist' - words I would find embarrassing and presumptuous to ascribe to myself."
Prior to the publication of his own poems, O'Driscoll published widely in journals and other print publications as both an essayist and poetry reviewer, for which he was very widely known. In fact,The Times Literary Supplement has called him "one of Ireland's most respected critics of poetry." During this time he contributed upwards of two-hundred essays and reviews to various publications, a few in which he also held the position of editor. Some of the better known periodicals he has been published in are Poetry, The London Magazine, Harvard Review, The Southern Review, and Poetry Review. Finally, he has also published one collection of literary criticisms entitled Troubled Thoughts, Majestic Dreams which contains a selection of essays and reviews.
O'Driscoll's poems are often written to contain the major motifs of death and the banality of everyday life in a fluid and discursive style and an economic language base. In an interview, O'Driscoll claimed his sympathy towards writing in the language that is standard to the time period in which one lives. More often than not, O'Driscoll's poems are shrouded by darker thematic content, but every so often his poems can be satiric and even clownish. Despite this, O'Driscoll is know widely for his fundamental compassion for the human condition. The purpose of his poems in often not to stand by and be passively entertaining, but, rather, to challenge te emotional content of the reader's life.
Due to the notability of his works, O'Driscoll as received numerous awards and recognition from countries around the world. These include:
Lannan Literary Award
E.M. Forster Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
O'Shaughnessy Award for Poetry from the Center of Irish Studies in Minnesota
Poetry Book Special Commendation for New and Selected Poems
Shortlisted for The Irish Times Poetry Now Award for Reality Check
Argosy Irish Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award
Honorary doctorate in literature by University College, Dublin
He has also been asked to give readings of his work in such places as the Poetry Room in Harvard University, the Poetry International in London as well as the Hay-on-Wye and Cheltenham festivals of literature.
Dennis O'Driscoll's Works:
Kist (Dolmen Press, 1982)
Hidden Extras (Anvil Press Poetry, London/Dedalus Press, Dublin, 1987)
Long Story Short (Anvil Press Poetry/Dedalus Press, 1993)
Quality Time (Anvil Press Poetry, 1997)
Weather Permitting (Anvil Press Poetry, 1999), which was a Poetry Book
Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Prize 2001
Exemplary Damages (Anvil Press Poetry, 2002)
New and Selected Poems (Anvil Press Poetry, 2004) was a Poetry Book
Society Special Commendation
Reality Check (Anvil Press Poetry, 2007/ Copper Canyon Press, US, 2008), was shortlisted for the Irish Times/Poetry Now Prize
He has also published three chapbooks. These are:
The Bottom Line (Dedalus Editions, 1994)
50 O’Clock (Happy Dragons' Press, UK, 2005)
All the Living (Traffic Street Press, Minnesota, 2008).
Additionally, a fourth chap book, Dear Life, is scheduled for publication in 2012.
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Dennis O'Driscoll Poems
His grace is no longer called for before meals: farmed fish multiply without His intercession. Bread production rises through
Life gives us something to live for: we will do
The Celtic Tiger
Ireland’s boom is in full swing. Rows of numbers, set in a cloudless blue computer background, prove the point.
Tomorrow I will start to be happy. The morning will light up like a celebratory cigar. Sunbeams sprawling on the lawn will set dew sparkling like a cut-glass tumbler of champagne.
Forever some customer happy to sing along with the supermarket muzak, no matter how hackneyed or crass. Forever the plangent sound of a motorcycle in the early hours, conjuring a world you once had access to.
Time for sleep. Time for a nightcap of grave music, a dark nocturne, a late quartet, a parting song, bequeathed by the great dead in perpetuity.
The Next Poem
My next poem is quite short and it’s about something most of you will recognise. It came out of an experience I had on holiday a couple of years ago. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m correct in saying that it’s the only poem I’ve ever managed to write during my holidays
someone is dressing up for death today, a change of skirt or tie eating a final feast of buttered sliced pan, tea scarcely having noticed the erection that was his last shaving his face to marble for the icy laying out
The August day you wake to takes you by surprise. Its bitterness. Black sullen clouds. Brackish downpour. A drift-net of wetness enmeshes the rented cottage, towels and children’s swimwear sodden on the line.
After Miroslav Holub It’s much cushier when it’s raining rabbits than cats and dogs. The animals for experiment should not betray too much intelligence.
Life gives us something to live for: we will do whatever it takes to make it last. Kill in just wars for its survival. Wolf fast-food during half-time breaks. Wash down chemical cocktails, as prescribed. Soak up hospital radiation. Prey on kidneys at roadside pile-ups. Take heart from anything that might conceivably grant it a new lease. We would give a right hand to prolong it. Cannot imagine living without it.
His grace is no longer called for before meals: farmed fish multiply without His intercession. Bread production rises through disease-resistant grains devised scientifically to mitigate His faults. Yet, though we rebelled against Him like adolescents, uplifted to see an oppressive father banished - a bearded hermit - to the desert, we confess to missing Him at times. Miss Him during the civil wedding when, at the blossomy altar of the registrar's desk, we wait in vain to be fed a line containing words like ‘everlasting' and ‘divine'. Miss Him when the TV scientist explains the cosmos through equations, leaving our planet to revolve on its axis aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow. Miss Him when the radio catches a snatch of plainchant from some echoey priory; when the gospel choir raises its collective voice to ask Shall We Gather at the River? or the forces of the oratorio converge on I Know That My Redeemer Liveth and our contracted hearts lose a beat. Miss Him when a choked voice at the crematorium recites the poem about fearing no more the heat of the sun. Miss Him when we stand in judgement on a lank Crucifixion in an art museum, its stripe-like ribs testifying to rank. Miss Him when the gamma-rays recorded on the satellite graph seem arranged into a celestial score, the music of the spheres, the Ave Verum Corpus of the observatory lab. Miss Him when we stumble on the breast lump for the first time and an involuntary prayer escapes our lips; when a shadow crosses our bodies on an x-ray screen; when we receive a transfusion of foaming blood sacrificed anonymously to save life. Miss Him when we exclaim His name spontaneously in awe or anger as a woman in a birth ward calls to her long-dead mother. Miss Him when the linen-covered dining table holds warm bread rolls, shiny glasses of red wine. Miss Him when a dove swoops from the orange grove in a tourist village just as the monastery bell begins to take its toll. Miss Him when our journey leads us under leaves of Gothic tracery, an arch of overlapping branches that meet like hands in Michelangelo's Creation. Miss Him when, trudging past a church, we catch a residual blast of incense, a perfume on par with the fresh-baked loaf which Milosz compared to happiness. Miss Him when our newly-fitted kitchen comes in Shaker-style and we order a matching set of Mother Ann Lee chairs. Miss Him when we listen to the prophecy of astronomers that the visible galaxies will recede as the universe expands. Miss Him when the sunset makes its presence felt in the stained glass window of the fake antique lounge bar. Miss Him the way an uncoupled glider riding the evening thermals misses its tug. Miss Him, as the lovers shrugging shoulders outside the cheap hotel ponder what their next move should be. Even feel nostalgic, odd days, for His Second Coming, like standing in the brick dome of a dovecote after the birds have flown.
someone is dressing up for death today, a change of skirt or tie eating a final feast of buttered sliced pan, tea scarcely having noticed the erection that was his last shaving his face to marble for the icy laying out spraying with deodorant her coarse armpit grass someone today is leaving home on business saluting, terminally, the neighbours who will join in the cortege someone is paring his nails for the last time, a precious moment someone's waist will not be marked with elastic in the future someone is putting out milkbottles for a day that will not come someone's fresh breath is about to be taken clean away someone is writing a cheque that will be rejected as ‘drawer deceased' someone is circling posthumous dates on a calendar someone is listening to an irrelevant weather forecast someone is making rash promises to friends someone's coffin is being sanded, laminated, shined who feels this morning quite as well as ever someone if asked would find nothing remarkable in today's date perfume and goodbyes her final will and testament someone today is seeing the world for the last time as innocently as he had seen it first
I The August day you wake to takes you by surprise. Its bitterness. Black sullen clouds. Brackish downpour. A drift-net of wetness enmeshes the rented cottage, towels and children's swimwear sodden on the line. Dry-gulleted drains gulp down neat rain. Drops bounce from a leaking gutter with hard, uncompromising slaps: and, like resignation in the face of death, you contemplate winter with something close to tenderness, the sprint from fuel shed to back door, the leisurely ascent of peat smoke, even the suburban haze of boiler flues when thermostats are set. You warm to those thoughts as you sit there, brainstorming ways to keep the family amused, plans abandoned for barefoot games on dry sand. Handcraft shops? Slot-machine arcades? Hotel grills? In truth - manipulating toast crumbs backwards, forwards at the unsteady table's edge - you'd prefer to return to your bed as if with some mild ailment, pampered by duvet, whiskey, cloves. II Let it rain. Let the clouds discharge their contents like reserve tanks. Let the worms burrow their way to the topsoil from whatever dank Sargasso they were spawned in. Let dampness rot the coffin-boards of the summer house. Let the shrubs lose their foothold in the wind, the nettles lose their edge, the drenched rat with slicked-back hair scuttle to its sewage pipe. Let the tropical expanses of the rhubarb leaves serve as an artificial pond, a reservoir. Let the downpour's impact on the toolshed be akin to the dull applause on an archive recording of a love duet. Let the bricklayers at the building site wrap pathetic sheets of polythene around doomed foundations. Let the limb ripped from the tree's socket hover fleetingly in the air, an olive branch. Let a rainbow's fantail unfurl like a bird of paradise. Let a covenant be sealed, its wording watertight. Let the floods recede. Let there be light. III after Giacomo Leopardi The storm runs out of wind; nature, which abhors a silence, fills the vacancy with birdsong. Deserting the airless, low-ceilinged coop, the hen repeats herself ad infinitum. Replenished like the rain-barrels, hearts grow sanguine. Hammering resumes. Humming. Gossip. Croons. Sun strides down lanes that grass has repossessed, takes a shine to the brasses at the hotel where, by the window she thrust open, the chambermaid is marvelling at the cleansed freshness, calm. Balm of mind and body. Will we ever feel more reconciled to life than now, ever know a moment more conducive to new hopes, eager beginnings, auspicious starts? How easily pleased we are. Rescind the threat of torment for the briefest second and we blot out dark nights of the soul when lightning flashes fanned by wind ignited fire and brimstone visions. Sorrow is perennial; happiness, a rare bloom, perfumes the air - so that we breathe with the ease of a camphor-scented chest from which congestion has just lifted. Lack of woe equates with rapture then, though not till death will pain take full leave of our senses, grant us permanent relief.
Tomorrow I will start to be happy.
The morning will light up like a celebratory cigar.
Sunbeams sprawling on the lawn will set
dew sparkling like a cut-glass tumbler of champagne.
Today will end the worst phase of my life.
I will put my shapeless days behind me,