¬ Harry Clifton

Harry Clifton


Life
1952- ; b. Dublin [Coombe Hosp.]; ed. Blackrock College, UCD; worked as a teacher in Africa, and an administrator in Thailand; poetry collections and short stories in ‘New Irish Writing’ (Irish Press), and The Irish Times; early winner of the Patrick Kavanagh Award; wrote reviews and feature articles on travel in Thailand, USA., &c.; issued The Desert Route: Selected Poems 1973-88 (1992), London Poetry Book Society Recommendation, co-published by Gallery and Bloodaxe;
 
lived in N. England and afterwards in Chatillon, France, m. Deirdre Madden; lived in Paris in the 1990s, and afterwards spent a year in a house attached to a village church in Abruzzi (On the Spine of Italy, 2000); read with Medbh McGuckian at Princess Grace Irish Library, Monaco, May 1998; returned to Ireland in 2004 [after 16 years in Europe]; issued Secular Lights: Paris Notebooks 1994-2004 (2008), winner of the Irish Times Poetry Award;
 
teaches at UCD and lives on Beaufield Ave., Dublin; appt. Ireland Professor of Poetry, in succession to Michael Longley, 1 July 2010, but excluded from the Penguin Book of Irish Verse (ed. Patrick Crotty, 2010); gives public lecture, “Seriously into Cultural Detritus: Writing the Rustbelt in Britain and Ireland”, John Hume Centre for Global Irish Studies, UCD, 1 March 2011; issued Portobello Sonnets (2017), and read from his new collection in interview on RTÉ, 17 March 2017. OCIL FDA

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Works
Poetry
  • Null Beauty (Honest Ulsterman 1976), pamphlet;
  • The Walls of Carthage (Dublin: Gallery Press 1977), 45pp.;
  • Comparative Lives (Dublin: Gallery Press 1982), 57pp.;
  • Office of the Salt Merchant (Dublin: Gallery Press 1979);
  • The Desert Route: Selected Poems 1973-88 (Dublin: Gallery Press/Bloodaxe 1992);
  • The Liberal Cage (Dublin: Gallery Press 1988);
  • Night Train Through the Brenner Pass (Dublin: Gallery Press 1993).
  • Secular Eden: Paris Notebooks 1994-2004 (Wake Forest UP 2008).
  • The Winter Sleep of Captain Lemass (Bloodaxe 2012)
  • The Holding Centre (Bloodaxe 2014)
  • Portobello Sonnets (Bloodaxe Books 2017), 48pp.

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Fiction
  • Berkeley’s Telephone and Other Fictions (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2000), 224pp.

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Travel
  • On the Spine of Italy: A Year in the Abruzzi (London: Pan 2000), 192pp.

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Miscellaneous
  • ‘Available Air: Irish Contemporary Poetry 1975-1985’, in Krino, 7 (1989), pp.20-30;
  • contrib. to ‘The State of Poetry’ [Special Issue] Krino, ed. Gerald Dawe & Jonathan Williams [(Winter 1993), pp.9-11 [a short prose piece with poem, ‘The Walled Town’], and review of poetry by Peter Fallon and Dermot Healy, pp.69-72;
  • ‘A Ship Came from Valparaiso’, extract from novel, in Ireland in Exile, Irish Writers Abroad, ed. Dermot Bolger (New Island 1994) [q.pp.];
  • ‘Umbrian Winter’, in Graph, 3.1 (Spring 1998), pp.23--22.

Also ‘Real and Synthetic Whisky, A Generation of Irish Poets 1975-85’, [essay] in New Irish Writing, ed. James D. Brophy & Eamon Grennan [Library of Irish Studies] (NY: Twayne [q.d.]);

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Honest Ulsterman: Clifton published extensively in The Honest Ulsterman, issues 42-63, and again in 93 [see Tom Clyde, The Honest Ulsterman, Author Index, 1995].

 

Reviews incl. ‘Remembering the Redemptive Power of Art’, review of Paul Muldoon, Poems 1968-1998 (London: Faber 2001), in The Irish Times, Weekend (26 May 2001) [see infra]; ‘Arguments without end’, review of Paul Muldoon, The End of the Poem, in The Irish Times (28 Oct. 2006), Weekend [see infra]; ‘An oeuvre seen in full coherence’, review of Collected Poems by Louis MacNeice, in The Irish Times (10 Feb. 2007), Weekend [see infra].

 

Ireland Chair of Poetry - Inaugural lecture: 'Seriously Into Cultural Detritus: Writing the Rustbelt in Britain and Ireland', given in the Great Hall of Queen's University Belfast, Tues., Feb. 8, 2011, and the John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies, University College Dublin, March 1, 2011.

Second Lecture: ‘The Unforged Conscience: Europe in Irish Poetry’, in the Swift Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, Wed., Feb. 22, 2012 [to be repeated in Belfast].

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Commentary
John Kenny, review Berkeley’s Telephone and Other Fictions, in The Irish Times (11 Oct. 2000): writer much-travelled in Africa, Asia, Continental Europe and England; 10 pieces, four set in Dublin, three in Africa, one each in Paris, Germany and Thailand. Kenny quotes, ‘always the umbilicus back to Ireland’ and cites titles incl. “Where the Track Fades”, “Heartlands”, “Those Who Stand and Wait” (deemed to be the centre-piece), and comments on ‘the steady portrayal of middle-class life, a self-conscious habitude towards which he manages to be simultaneously emphathetic and critical.’ (For full text in Ricorso > Library > Criticism > Reviews - via index or as attachment.)

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Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, ‘The Return’, review of Portobello Sonnets by Harry Clifton, in Dublin REview of Books (1 June 2107): ‘Harry Clifton has been for decades a poet who uses a wide angle lens. Responding partly it seems to a generational impulse (to differentiate himself from older poets identified, incestuously twinned even, with their Irish origins), he has been pushed or drawn to see the Irish scene from a distance. Earlier this year he pointed in an Irish Times article to his first book, The Walls of Carthage (1977), built on a metaphor from Augustine: “desert pilgrims endlessly travelling back and forth between Alexandria and Carthage, unable ever to decide which set of city walls are the most beautiful”. His own journey, he said, was that of a pilgrim also “forced to wander between relative states”, his life lived mainly “elsewhere than in Ireland”. Precisely: the island viewed in terms of its elsewheres, the foreign embraced as exile away from home. And the city, not the rural root. [...; quotes ... ‘Breaking bread, in the secular heaven / Of the drop-in centre, the church absolved of bells’ - in a sonnet about fathers delivering childen to a crèche that was formerly a church.] “Secular” is from early on a keyword for Clifton, its meaning going beyond the European laicité. It is not just the political allegiance to a notion of a state and a society absolved from clerical influence, though, as in the lines quoted above, it certainly includes that position. However his use of the term, as in the title of his earlier book, makes it clear that the secular is defined in apposition (not merely opposition) to the sacred, an element to which he is far from wholly hostile. Again, the sacred is not merely the magnet for a historical nostalgia. The article on the Augustinian metaphor which I quoted earlier in this review was a tribute to his old teacher, the recently deceased Archbishop Desmond Connell, and as well as a kind image of a man wholly detached from the saeculum, the century in which he found himself, it is a reminder of the vast repository of complex mental structures historically enclosed in Catholic thought. And a question: can it be that all that ingenious and resonant thinking is gone out of our reach forever? I think this question, though not addressed head on, lurks in the undergrowth of Portobello Sonnets, with its constant reference to the sacred as devalued touchstone.’(For full text in Ricorso > Library > Criticism > Reviews - via index or as attachment.)

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References
Peter Fallon & Seán Golden, eds., Soft Day: A Miscellany of Contemporary Irish Writing (South Bend: Notre Dame / Dublin: Wolfhound 1980), contains Three Poems; Picaro; Manichee Woman.

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Poems in The Inherited Boundaries: Younger Poets of the Republic of Ireland, ed. Sebastian Barry (Dolmen 1986):
from The Walls of Carthage
The Walls of Carthage
Blue
Morning
In Whom We Trust
Picaro
Strange Filth
Upstairs Child

78
79
80
81
82
83
83
from Office of the Salt Merchant
The Niger Ferry
Plague and Hospice
Government Quarters
Latitude 5°N
Trial Marriage
Loneliness in the Tropics


84
85
86
87
88
89

from Comparative Lives
Death of Thomas Merton 89
Monsoon Girl 91
The Seamstress 92
Apropos of the Falling Sleet 93
Ireland 95
Sketches from Berlin 96
Droit de Seigneur

89
91
92
93
95
96
99

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Quotations
Poetry
Awake beside my wife, I lay / In a minute, or an hour, / When the common light of day / had turned her inside out again, / I would see the dark power / In her eyes, and the other men.’ (Selected Poems[?], Reviewed by Peter Denman, ILS, Fall 1995, p.9.)

Staggering Ashore”: ‘And Caliban, in the maram grass / Of Booterstown sloblands / Sticks in the mud of drunkenness, / Old stay-at-home, old rainy day friend …’. (In Irish Times, 14 Nov. 1998.)

The Place”: ‘[‘Unnameable, that blinding sheet of water / High in the hills, I came upon out of the blue [...] and off the map, on my own way through / The sites of famine and the sites of laughter / [...]. / How lonely it might be, to swim there naked, / I could only imagine, Ireland, so to speak, // Had come between us, like a foreign word.’ (The Irish Times, 30 Sept. 2000.)

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McCrystal’s”: ‘All night, on the opposite shore, / The lights of McCrystal’s glitter. / You could walk on water / To get there, and be drowned, / Or take the long way round, // ... // Everything everyone needs he stores, / As self-contained as a man-god / In the aftermath of creation. / Anything else, from the farther shore, / Is optical, an illusion. [...] ’ (Times Literary Supplement, 11 Feb. 2005, p.15; for full text, see infra.)

Victrola Music (Hart Crane 1899-1932)”: ‘Wind the damned thing up, / Release the handle, and begin your dance / For the millionth time. When it stops And a crowd has gathered, start all over again. / From the front to the back of your brain, / Something is moving - a trance // / The cranked-up ecstasy / Of latter days. [...]’ (Times Literary Supplement, 11 Feb. 2005, p.15; for full text, see infra.)

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Responsibilities”: ‘A halfwit girl, from somewhere before the Fall, / Is staying behind, in no-man’s land, / To mind the animals. / No-one else understands them, // Leads them back into Eden ... Innocents / The donkeys in the hills of Palestine, / Shell-shocked, by a barbed-wire fence, / As the earth vibrates. And those strange Florentines, // Monkeys sprung from the Zoo, / gibbering in the trees / While humans dredge their masterpieces / From under the Arno flood. // And the tyrant’s horses, loose on the airport road / Beyond Baghdad, to be set at ease - / Aware, that girl, of her great responsibilities.’ (The Irish Times, 26 Aug. 2006, “Weekend”, p.13.)

Shoah”: [Poem on the French complicity in the Holocaust:] ‘... Boys and girls / With stars on their lapels, who sleep on straw / Like everyone else, and carry out the slops. / And who could deny we’re equals, under a Law / Annihilating us all? Conformists, resisters, / You I would never abandon, my own soul-sister, / Drinking brassy water from the taps of Drancy / Where time and space are the antechamber / To our latest idea of eternity - / Trains going east in convoys, sealed and numbered, To an unknown destination.’ (Quoted in Hugh McFadden, review of Secular Eden, in Books Ireland, Nov. 2008, p.253.)

Larkin in Belfast”: ‘An attic overlooking Elmwood Avenue, / Bedroom, livingroom, bathroom, galley kitchen / Not the worst. Between religions, / In the liberal zone. And the writing you do // In the after-hours of social conscience / Stolen pleasure. Nothing above you / But mountain, Irish cloud. The women who love you / Safely overseas, at an ideal distance - // Liverpool, London, Leicester ... Good years, then. / Not, of course, that you know it at the time. / That comes later. Blue, blue skies, great fame, / A future perfect, without gods or men.’ (In The Irish Times, 26 Feb. 2011, Weekend Review, p.10.)

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Prose
Umbrian Winter’ (1998): ‘[...] “If you need wood,” he said, “I can give you a supply.” At the scent of unusual conversation, the snake-eyed woman of the family slithered out onto her balcony to watch. We were uneasy with Silvio. He was darkly reserved, the wild man of the village, feted and esteemed. He was gaunt and emaciated, with dark intelligent eyes in which violence slept like tinder. He embodied the spirit of the village -taciturnity, erupting into violence now and again, like something too long victimised, lashing out in revenge. He was more complex than that, however. There was a gentle, henpecked side to him, ruled by his tough, realistic wife Franca, who held the house together through his alcoholic bouts, addictions and criminal excesses. His two children, a saintly elder daughter and a nervous, crying younger one, were loners who played together - we heard their ball bouncing against the back wall of the church every evening. He was, in short, a superior personality, shedding a luciferean light, a glow of spiritual anguish over the dull idiocy of the friends who egged him on, half in admiration, half in fear and contempt. All this we had picked up just by being about the place, exchanging the odd remark. When he worked, he was a dealer in wood, cutting it in the forests far back in the mountains, driving it to Teramo in his battered blue lorry. It was in this connection he was approaching us. “Go to your house and wait,” be said. “I will bring you some wood immediately.” A few minutes later, he arrived at the back door, with a wheel-barrow full of dry, mossy logs. Several wheelbarrows later, we had a couple of quintales stacked in the kitchen. We were about to pay him, but he waved the offer aside. [...]’ (For longer extract, see attached.)

The State of Poetry’: ‘To look at the last question first - I was recently at a conference in London entitled “The Future of Poetry” at which the poet Joseph Brodsky predicted the end of the free-verse era and a return to stanzaic form, and the poet Czeslaw Milosz foresaw the withdrawal of poetry from the acute political engagement forced upon it in the twentieth century, to a contemplation of essences. Both, in effect, were drawing attention to ruptures in the skin of the bubble, stylistic and ethical crises where raw unformed reality had gushed through, inundating, some would say fertilising, the aesthetic space. To these ruptures could perhaps be added a third one, a late variant of nineteenth-century progressivism - the poetry class or workshop, presided over by the professional poet whose spiritual arc, for reasons of sheer necessity, has begun to merge with the arc of careerism in general […]’ (In ‘The State of Poetry’ [Special Issue], Krino (Winter 1993), p.9.]

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Notes
Brand Ireland: When Brian Cowen (Taoiseach) suggested in his speech at Clifton’s inauguration as Ireland Professor of Poetry that ‘Brand Ireland’ could ‘give us the competitive advantage in a globalised world’ while arts and culture had a ‘big role’ to play in getting us ‘back on track’ in the post-Celtic Tiger period, Clifton warned of the dangers to poetry from ‘the kind of people who have too strong an agenda’, not to mention the ‘crush of market forces’. Derek Mahon later told The Irish Times that ‘the idea of using the arts to build ‘Brand Ireland’ is very dense and philistine’ The Taoiseach’s speech was published at the Irish Government website - online. See Déaglán de Bréadun [Opinion & Analysis column], in The Irish Times (31 July 2010), p.14.

Paul Durcan: note various listings for Durcan's third lecture in Ireland Chair of Poetry as ‘The Mystery of Harry Clifton’ (Johns Hopkins Univ. Library) and ‘The Mountain and Mohammed’ (COPAC).

Front page: a smiling photograph of Clifton at a window awaiting the arrival of Brian Cowan to announce his appointment as Professor of Poetry in 2010 appeared on the front page of the The Irish Times (1 July 2010).

Namesake: His namesake Capt. Harry Clifton gave W. B. Yeats the lapis lazuli figure that became the subject of his famous late poem (1938).

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