Michael Foley


Life
1947- ; b. Derry; ed. St. Columb’s College, Derry, and QUB; chemistry degree, followed by research in computer science; encouraged by James Simmons; issued Heil Hitler (1969), poems; succeeded Simmons as joint-editor of Honest Ulsterman with Frank Ormsby, 1969-72; The Acne and the Ecstasy (1973), poems; Through the Gateless Gate (1976); True Life Love Stories (1976); The Irish Frog (1978); moved to London, supposedly to avoid drinking life in Belfast, 1972; contrib. satirical column ‘Wrassler’ to Fortnight;
 
issued The Passion of Jamesie Coyle, a novel which imagines what it would be like if Christ was incarnated in Northern Ireland, serialised in Fortnight 1978; became lecturer in computer technology, Central London Polytechnic College (Westminster); The GO Situation (1982); a novel, The Road to Notown (1996), roman à clef dealing with marital history of James Simmons and Imelda Foley as written by a close associate Martin intoxicated with French literary decadence as model for life in the 1970s; Getting Used To Not Being Remarkable (1998), fiction;
 
issued Beyond (2002), a novel about two young couples and their sexual explorations in the Irish 1960s; also Autumn Beguiles the Fatalist (2006), a poetry collection, and New and Selected Poems (2011). ORM OCIL

 

Now a woman at the window of the northbound train.
Her glimpsed face yearning, intelligent, disconsolate.

Journeying in search of what? Something to clothe the poor bones.
Some great cloak of majesty that enables and defines.

But the world has no magical cloak to confer.
The only investiture comes from ourselves.
Magical transmutations of evening: nobility and grace attend the weeds.
—Given on Facebook by Peter Quinn [25.04.2017]

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Works
Poetry
  • Heil Hitler (Portrush: Ulsterman Publ. 1969);
  • True Life Love Stories (Belfast: Blackstaff 1976);
  • The Irish Frog: Versions of Laforgue (Honest Ulsterman Publ. 1978);
  • The GO Situation (Belfast: Blackstaff 1982);
  • Poems, Insomnia in the Afternoon (Belfast: Blackstaff 1994);
  • Autumn Beguiles the Fatalist (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2006), 151pp.;
  • New and Selected Poems (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2011), 224pp.
Also collections of French poetry in translation.
Fiction
  • The Life of Jamesie Coyle (Fortnight Publications 1984) [var. Passion];
  • The Road to Notown (Belfast: Blackstaff 1996), 342pp.;
  • Getting Used To Not Being Remarkable (Belfast: Blackstaff 1998), 320pp.;
  • Beyond (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2002), 298pp.
Miscellaneous
  • What is Journalism’, in Peter Murtagh, ed., Irish Times Book of the Year (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 2001) [?poss. namesake].

The Honest Ulsterman, Nos. 5-99 - contributed reviews incl. The Novels of John McGahern (No. 5, p.34); The Comedy of Flann O’Brien (No.19, p.7); Editorial Address to James Simmons on his Handling of The Honest Ulsterman (No. 22, 3 [a poem]); review of Frances Molloy, No Mate for a Magpie (No. 80, 69); review of Anthony Cronin, No Laughing Matter (No. 89, p.68); ‘Revelations on the Rock of Death’ [extract from a novel] (No.99, p.23); also reviews of Simmons’ collections and others by Ewart Gavin [himself a frequent contributor]. (See Tom Clyde, ed., HU Author Index, 1995.)

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Criticism
Reviews
  • Aisling Foster, review of Getting Used to Not Being Remarkable (1998), in Times Literary Supplement, 9 Oct. 1998, p.29;
  • [Carol Birch review of The Road to Notown, in Times Literary Supplement (26 July 1996), p.22 [see extract];
  • Ron Marken, ‘Michael Foley, Robert Johnstone and Frank Ormsby: Three Ulster Poets in the Go Situation’, in Poetry in Contemporary Irish Literature, ed. Michael Kenneally [Studies in Contemporary Irish Literature 2; Irish Literary Studies 43] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1995), pp.130-43;
  • John Dunne, The Road to Notown, in Books Ireland (Oct. 1996), pp.277-78 [has reservations about the number of characters];
  • Eamonn Hughes, ‘Belfastards and Derriers’, review of The Road to Notown [with other works by Seamus Deane, Deirdre Madden and Robert McLiam Wilson], in The Irish Review, 20 [Ideas of Nationhood] (Winter/Spring 1997), pp.151-57;
  • John Dunne, review of Getting Used To Not Being Remarkable, in Books Ireland (Dec. 1998, p.341 [finds it ‘a dreadful disappointment’];
  • John Kenny reviews Getting Used to Not Being Remarkable (Blackstaff 1998), in Irish Times (31 Oct., 1998) [infra];
  • Sue Leonard, review of Beyond, in Books Ireland (Oct. 2002), p.256.
Interview
  • [Shirley Kelly,] ‘Michael Foley: The Novelist Nobody Noticed’ [interview-article], in Books Ireland (Oct. 1998), p.249. S

See also Frank Kernowski, The Outsiders: Poets of Contemporary Ireland (Texas UP 1975), citing Foley, Heil Hitler (1969), with comments, pp.141-43.

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Commentary
Maurice Harmon, ‘First Impressions: 1968-78’, in Terence Brown & Patrick Rafroidi, eds., The Irish Short Story (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979): ‘Michael Foley’s comic imagination, on the other hand, can mock the crudities of human behaviour and can bring the ugly and the beautiful into challenging contact.’ (p.72.) Further, ‘[...] Another characteristic is a concentration on ordinary things. In Michael Foley’s “The Strangem”, the visitor’s sentiments are seen to be unusual: “He spoke of the beauty of ordinary things, how in the rush and bustle of our lives we tend to undervalue all that is most precious n. Not that human awareness can be changed forever; the story is careful to suggest that one man’s words or one man’s example cannot do that, but Michael Foley’s work [...] is intensely sensitive to the real world.’ (p.73.)

Carol Birch reviewing The Road to Notown, in Times Literary Supplement (26 July 1996), writes: ‘amiable, largely plotless and very readable novel; would-be writer [...] nervously contemplating life beyond the Students’ Union [...] drawn into the Herron family, formidable Ulster matriarchy dominated by trio of sisters; marries one; another disastrously pairs off with his friend Kyle Magee, novelist, saxophonist, heavy drinker and a perfect example of the kind of artistic temperament that makes of selfishness a style statement; skilfully conveys the desperate childishness and irritating charm of such a character; for Kyle, talent justifies any amount of bad behaviour; a committed humanist, earnestly tolerant, [he] neglects his own children, scoffs at the décor and food preferences of common people, and gives short shrift to opinions that differ from his own, particularly where his own work is concerned: ‘Kyle interpreted criticism as failure to understand’; Foley’s unerring eye for pretension [...] root[s] out surprising parallels between the working-0class Catholic Herrons and the media and literary cliques of Ireland; snobbery is his dominant theme; the Herrons typify the inverted variety; for them ‘every know form of human achievement was charlatanism’; the cultured parade their liberalism, yet pass their time [...] swapping patronising stories about the peasants; bizarre spectacle of humanist wedding of Kyle to Liz Herron, with its ‘sacerdotal atmosphere’ and ‘sacred muzak’; grim paranoia of ‘aged kulak’, the terrifying Mrs Herron for whom ‘imitation was actually worse than forthright reject - a cowardly and self-defeating concept, like that of the vegetarian sausage’; reviewer considers that too much of the novel is made of stuff that’s there simply because it happened; the style is unsettled; predilection for long strings of adjectives; genuinely funny; blow for value of ordinariness; ‘A life force need never apologise’ is a wry comment on the final appearance of Kyle Magee, interviewed on TV having won a major literary prize, and justifying his own bad behaviour; for the narrator the youthful sense of imminence has given way to ‘the marvellous long tepid dream of the plateau years, our unglamorous circumstances long since accepted’. (p.22.)

John Kenny reviews Getting Used to Not Being Remarkable (Blackstaff 1998), in Irish Times (31 Oct., 1998); describes ‘huge, daemonic irony that saturates’ the novel; the dehumanised narrator is Martin Ward, an enervated Irish teacher of sciences in London; ‘a plain kind of intertextuality is on over-drive here’; ‘same formlessness as his poetry’; ‘ending peters out’; quotes, “the purpose of life is to invest cliché with a terrible truth”; finally concludes that there is something very substntial and interesting about the content of the novel and remarks some highly crafted sentences.

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References
James Simmons, ed., Ten Irish Poets (Cheadle: Carcanet 1974) [‘Recruiting Song’; ‘Heil Hitler’; from ‘Instead of a Rose’; ‘The Fall of the Bedsitter King’; ‘O’Driscoll’; from ‘A la Recherche du Temps Perdu’; ‘Autumn Leaves’; ‘I Feel, These Days’; ‘Into the Breach’; ‘I’m Scared ...’; ‘Sois Sage ...’].

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Notes
The Road to Notown (1996): scurrilous, satirical novel about pretensions, paranoia and hypocrisy of literary world and hangers-on; wisecracking observations of young narrator, 21-year journey from Derry to Dublin to London, encountering Kyle Magee, the ‘Zorba of the North’, novelist, painter, jazzman, drinker, lover of women, celebrant of life’ and the lovers and poseurs that swirl in the vortex of his restless energy; exposes ‘the streets of Notown, where renegades flock from all over to find to find the insubstantiality and weightlessness of freedom’ (Blackstaff Catalogue, 1996).

Namesake: Michael Foley, author of The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (NY: Simon & Schuster 2011) - identifies dissatisfaction, restlessness, desire and resentment as the roots of modern unhappiness.

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