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
Life gives us something to live for: we will do
His grace is no longer called for before meals: farmed fish multiply without His intercession. Bread production rises through
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.
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.
I catch a glance sometimes of my own dead at the window,
those whose traits I share: thin as moths, as matchsticks,
they stare into the haven of the warm room, eyes ablaze.
It is Sunday a lifetime ago. A woman in a now-demolished house