Desmond Egan

References


Life
1936-; b. 15 July, Athlone, his mother a primary school teacher; ed. St. Finian’s .Mullingar [boarding-school], 1950-55; St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, 1955-62, Classics; taught Greek and English at St. Finians, 1865-71; later moved to Newbridge College, Co. Kildare, turning to writing professionally in 1987; winner of Muir Poetry Award 1983; American Soc. Poetry Award, 1983, being the first European to do so; ed. Era (lit. mag.); fnd. Goldsmith Press, 1972 (first at Castleknock, Co. Dublin, latterly at Newbridge, Co. Kildare); m. Vivienne Abbott;
 
issued collections, Midland (1972); Leaves (1974); Siege! (1976); Athlone? (1980); m. Vivienne Abbott, with whom two dgs.; Snapdragon (1983), poems to and for his wife; Seeing Double (1983), employing experimental lay-out; Poems for Peace (1986); A Song for my Father (1989); Peninsula (1992), with photo ills.; Collected Poems (1983) and The Selected Poems, ed. and intro. Hugh Kenner (1991); illustrators incl. Brian Bourke and Charles Cullen; also prose, The Death of Metaphor (1990); trans. Euripides’ Medea (1992), assisted by Brian Arkins;
 
served as juror on panel awarding Neustadt International Poetry Award, Oklahoma Univ., 1996; rev. edn. of Collected Poems (1996); married, with two children; hon. degree (D.Litt.), Washburn Univ., 11 May 1996; apparently regarded as successor to Pound by Hugh Kenner (‘an Irish poet who feels no ‘need to sound Irish’); admits the influence of Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘stance’ in conferring the possibility of an ‘unpretentious confrontation with the theme’; The Outdoor Light (2005), is a poem-sequence in memory of James McKenna; Egan's papers are held at Georgetown Univ. DIL DIW OCIL

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Works
Poetry collections
  • Midland (Newbridge, Goldsmith Press 1972);
  • Leaves (Newbridge, Goldsmith Press 1974);
  • Seige (Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 1974);
  • Woodcutter (Newbridge, Goldsmith Press 1978), 42pp.;
  • Athlone? (1980);
  • Snapdragon (1983);
  • Collected Poems (ME National Poetry Foundation 1983), and Do. [new edn.] (Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 1984);
  • Seeing Double (Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 1984);
  • Peninsula: Poems from the Dingle Penisula (Newbridge: Kavanagh Press 1992) [photos by Liam Lyons], 71pp.;
  • Selected Poems, sel. & ed. by Hugh Kenner (Omaha: Creighton UP 1991; Goldsmith 1993) [var. Creighton/Goldsmith 1992], 186pp.;
  • Poems for Eimear (Little Rock: Milestone 1994);
  • Elegies (Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 1996), 108pp.;
  • Jean-Paul Blot, trans., Peninsula: poèmes de la Péninsule de Dingle (Fédérop 1996), 100pp.;
  • The Hill of Allen (Newbridge: Goldsmith 2001), 44pp.;
  • The Outdoor Light (Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 2005), 53pp. [i.m. James McKenna].
Drama
  • trans., Euripides’ Medea, intro. Brian Arkins (Newbridge: Kavanagh Press 1991), 91pp.
Criticism
  • The Death of Metaphor (Newbridge: Goldsmith Press; MD: Barnes & Noble; 1990) 174pp.
  • ‘Religion?’, in Irish Writers and Religion, ed. by Robert Welch [Irish Studies, 37; IASIL-Japan, 4] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992), pp.190-93 [ends with “For Sam Beckett on his 80th Birthday” - a poem, prev. printed in The Irish Times];
  • Gedichte, German/English Selection of Poems by Desmond Egan, ed. and intro. Prof. Stephan Kohl (Passau University); also available us a Japanese/English Selection called Paper Cranes, edited by Akira Yasukawa (Kansai University), and a new sequence, Poems for Eimear (Milestone, USA 1994).
See also Egan on Thomas Kinsella in Rome, in Poetry Ireland, [No.] 35 (q.d.).

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Criticism
  • Hugh Kenner, The Poet and his Work: Desmond Egan (Orono, Maine: Northern Lights/ Newbridge: Kavanagh Press, 1990) 222pp.;
  • Brian Arkins, Desmond Egan: A Critical Study (Little Rock 1991; Milestone Press 1992), 142pp.;
  • Peter van de Kamp, ‘Desmond Egan: Universal Provincialist’, in The Crows Behind the Plough: History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Poetry and Drama, ed. Geert Lernout [Costerus Ser. Vol. 79] (Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi Press 1991), pp.143-57;
  • Patrick Rafroidi, ‘Pilgrim’s Progress: On the Poetry of Desmond Egan and Others’, in Irish Writers and Religion, ed. by Robert Welch (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992), pp.185-89.

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Commentary
Hugh Kenner, The Poet and his Work, Desmond Egan (Orono, Maine: Northern Lights/ Newbridge: Kavanagh Press, 1990): ‘the first Irish poet to break free from the ‘need to sound “Irish”’ (q.pp.); ‘a poet who is hospitable in a new way to the literary traditions of Europe and America – in a way no English poet is’ (quoted in Jim McWilliam, Desmond Egan’, in Modern Irish Writers, ed. Alexander Gonzalez, 1997, p.75.)

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Kevin T. McEaney, reviewing Elegies (1996), comments: ‘To compare Egan with Yeats may seem presumptuous, but there has not been an Anglo-Irish poet since Yeats who has so earnestly taken the whole of Ireland and the globe for his audience [...] not since Yeats has an Irish poet writen so many meditiative poems on death.’ Further: ‘Within Ireland Egan has followed his own purgatorial path of self-exile while writing observantly of Ireland’; cites “Great Blasket” [‘began to understand why mediocrity / never became the norm out here / where existence is exile’]; the collection includes an elegy to Father [Bishop] Romano, the murdered Philippino prelate [‘makes people like us your family / Who would otherwise never have known you’); other poems incl. “A Song for My Father”; a lament for Eugene Watters; “Skylark” (for Kieran Collins, musician); “Needing the Sea” (for Samuel Beckett, going into ‘outer space’); “Envoi”; “Elegy for a Child Aged Six”. MacEaney comments on the appeal of Egan’ ‘spare, conversational diction [addressed] to the populace at large, as well as his own ‘individuality and artistic aesthetic.’ (See Irish Literary Supplement, Fall 1996, p.11.)

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Quotations
Prosody: ‘To write in iambic pentameter nowadays (unless for effect) would in my view be imply insensitivity.’ (Death of Metaphor, 1990; quoted in Jim McWillams, ‘Desmond Egan’, in Alexander Gonzalez, ed., Modern Irish Writers, 1997, p.74.)

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‘Religion?’ [article-chap.], in Irish Writers and Religion., ed. Robert Welch (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992), pp.190-93.
‘If you are a believer it will affect your sense of form, it will influence the very sentence that you write, it rhythm, structure, energy ... as much as its content. And how could it not? Your native place determines your accent, the way you walk. / After a few pages the reader can sense the personality and make a fair guess at the the philosophy of the author, including his or her approach to religion. Certainly the hints are there, if one has an ear. (p.190.)
[…]
 By “religious” I do not mean, therefore, tendentious or moralising writing - the opposite, in fact. I mean writing that achieves completenesss: the work of an integrated person, nourished by a sense of place, a shared wisdom, by a whole and coherent point of view. W. B. Yeats spent most of his life sailing valiantly towards this Byzantium which he never reached. That is why, due to no fault of his, Yeats is not one of the supreme writers - and why Patrick Kavanagh, due to no special virtue, is.
  Until Ireland regains some kind of wholeness, no major poet is likely to emerge. How many people today read Austin Clarke? (p.190.)
[...]
 One corollary of a religious sense: a keener realisation of personal limitation and, consequently, an unwillingness to take this world and its values wholly seriously. Imaginativeness is a religious response, just as much as modesty. So is humour, so too, irony. Does this tell us something about Samuel Beckett? (p.191.)
[...]
 Kavanagh: the most integrated Irish poet of our time. He alone has had the toughness and courage to achieve his own voice completely. Whole as the Homer of the Iliad; as Chaucer, as Cervantes; as Shakespeare, as Dostoievsky. A man who happens to write because he has to - the very opposite of a “man of letters”: “Art is never art. What is called art is merely life.” (Kavanagh’s Weekly, vol. 1, no. 6.)
[...]
 And Samuel Beckett: Must we accept the common perception of him as “Ireland’s best-known atheist”? and one whose work lacks a religious dimension? I wonder. His commitment to truth, to facing the pathos of living without flinching from it and without deceptions … amount to an absolute. It seems, to a believer, something the equivalent of a religious vision: “I can't go on. I must go on. I go on.” …] The man himself, modest, courteous and not without a twinkle in his eye, hardly ties-in with the image of the gloomy pessimist. I tried to suggest all this - and indeed something of my own perception of religion - in a small tribute I wrote for The Irish Times on the occasion of his eightieth birthday' [192].

See also the poem: “For Sam Beckett on his 80th Birthday” [treating of a meeting in Paris and ending:] ‘[...] God bless now Desmond / and you Sam our navigator our valiant necessary wandering it the edges of this interpreted word // god bless.’ (p.193.) [Available on Google Books - online; accessed 05.11.2011.]

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References
Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature (ed. Robert Hogan, 1979 Edn.): ‘some few poems ... have details so well and forcefully chosen that a language of ebullient assertion partially compensates for the lack of technique.’

Bad press: Egan was omitted from The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (ed. Seamus Deane, 1991). Derek Mahon is reputed to have quipped: “Des Egan takes all the fun out of trying to decide who is the worst poet in Ireland.’

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