Eamon Grennan

Criticism

Life
1941- ; b. Dublin; ed. UCD & Harvard; contrib. to Dublin Magazine in 1967; appt. Dexter M. Ferry, Jnr., Prof. of English, Vassar College, NY; his collections incl. Wildly for Days (1983), What Light is There (1987, 1991); As If it Matters (1991), So It Goes (1995), Selected and New Poems (2001); issued Still Life with Waterfall (2001), winner of Lenore Marshall Prize; The Quick of It (2004); Out of Breath (2007); long association with Gallery Press; migrates between New York State and Connemara. OCIL FDA

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Works
Poetry collections
  • Wildly for Days (Dublin: Gallery Press 1983), 50pp.;
  • What Light is There (Gallery 1987, 1991), 66pp.;
  • As If It Matters (Oldcastle: Gallery Books; Gray Wolf Press 1991), 87pp;
  • So It Goes (Oldcastle: Gallery Press; US: Gray Wolf Press 1995), 93pp.;
  • Selected and New Poems (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2000), 107pp.;
  • Still Life with Waterfall (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2001), 79pp.;
  • The Quick of It (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2004) [q.pp.];
  • Out of Breath (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2007), 80pp.

See also Selected Poems of Giacomo Leopardi, trans. by Eamon Grennan (Dedalus 1995), 123pp. [bilingual]

Criticism
  • ‘The American Connection: An Influence on Modern and Contemporary Irish Poetry’, in Poetry in Contemporary Irish Literature, ed. Michael Kenneally [Lit. Studies 13] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1995), pp.28-39.
  • Facing the Music: Irish Poetry in the Twentieth Century (Creighton UP 1999; Eurospan 2000), 456pp.
Miscellaneous
  • ed. New Irish Writing, with James D. Brophy (NY:Twayne [q.d.]);
  • contrib. “American Relations” to Theo Dorgan, ed., Irish Poetry Since Kavanagh [Thomas Davis Lectures] (Blackrock: Four Courts Press 1996);
  • “To the Moon” [trans. poem by Giacomo Leopardi], in Irish Times [Weekend} (2 Dec. 1995);
  • “Cold Morning” [ poem] in Times Literary Supplement (8 Jan. 1999), p.26;
Reviews (sel.)
  • review of The Plays of George Fitzmaurice, Vol. 1, in The Dublin Magazine (Autumn/Winter 1967), pp.92-94;
  • reviews of James Carney, Medieval Irish Lyrics (1967), and The Irish Bardic Poet [1967], in Do., pp.94-97;
  • ‘The Poet Joyce’, in James Joyce, The Artist and the Labyrinth: A Critical Re-evaluation, ed. Augustine Martin, (1990), pp.121-46;
 

Honest Ulsterman, contribs. by Grennan incl. reviews of poetry collections by Gerald Dawe & Paul Durcan (‘The Community and the Individual’, 81 [1986], p.65; review of Paul Muldoon, ed., Contemporary Irish Poetry, 1986 (‘A whimful, Myopic Book’, 82, p.58); poems, ‘Porridge’ (84, 16); ‘Broken Statues’ (Iss. 84, p.18); and Enda Longley, Poetry in the Wars (‘War Correspondent’, 84, 103).

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Criticism
  • Rand Brandes, review of Eamon Grennan, As If It Matters, in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 1992) [infra];
  • Hugh McFadden, review of Grennan, trans., Giacomo Leopardi: Selected Poems (Dublin: Dedalus Press 1995), in The Irish Times (?11 Dec. 1995);
  • Deborah D. Fleming, ‘The Common Ground of Eamon Grennan’, in Éire-Ireland 28, 4 (Winter 1994), pp.133-49;
  • Martin Mooney, review of So It Goes (Gallery 1995), in Fortnight Review (Jan. 1996), p.37 [infra];
  • Fred Johnston reviews So it Goes [inter alia.], in The Irish Times (17 Feb. 1996), p.9 [infra];
  • John Greening, review of Selected and New Poems, in Times Literary Supplement ( 13 April 2001) [infra];
  • Seán Lysaght, review of Selected and New Poems, in The Irish Times (21 Oct. 2000) [infra];
  • Bernard O’Donoghue, review of Eamon Grennan, Facing the Music, in The Irish Times (21 Oct. 2000); Colin Graham, review of Still Life with Waterfall, in The Irish Times (8 Sept. 2001), Weekend [infra].

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Commentary
Rand Brandes, review of Eamon Grennan, As If It Matters (Gray Wolf Press [1991]), in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 1992), who calls him poet of the cosmic kitchen. The lines quoted are domestic and metaphysical. the taste of duck, for instance is an ‘absolute intimacy / Of eating ... a scent the creature never had of itself ... And so / our own essence / is by nature beyond us, / will be rendered after.’ (“That Ocean”). Grennan’s taste is apparently for the wide open spaces of metaphysics, taking his family with him, as he gathers mussels with his daughter, ‘breathless plenitude / of this world, this wondrous abundance / offering itself up to us as if we were masters / ofthe garden ... the secret creatures we gather / and will tomorrow kill for our dinner’ (“Two Gathering”). There is much darkness but more illumination, ‘We know / they went with guttering rushlight / into the dark; came to terms / With the given world’ (“The Cave Painters”); but nevertheless his is ‘a world of forms bursting into flames in front of me’ (“Small Mercies”), and natural light is a token of this upsurge of phenomena [quotes “Uphill home”, as infra.]. While the ‘uncanny light’ of life which produces a ‘weightless cap of brightness’, his infant daughter ‘stands reading the darker side / Of herself to herself’ (“Early Learning”; flowers too, ‘flaring azaleas’; and, less obviously, logs ‘give off a glow of broken but transfigured flesh’ - all of which makes us like moths, ‘fallen angels the size / And shade of communion wafers - beat / dusted wings againt the screen, flinging / themselves at this impossible light.’ (“Sea Dog”). In a note to this poem, the poet acknowledges the influence of Heaney. One poem (“Colour Shot”) is about South Africa, ‘In these household flags / of no surrender, these signs / of light that harkens after brightness, / you might find the hearth’s / own crooked smoke / ascending.’ The allusion is to the washing line behind the black boy in the picture, which catches the poet’s eye. The reviewer (from Lenoir-Rhyne College) comments ‘this is and is not an Irish hearth’.

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Martin Mooney, review of So It Goes (Gallery 1995), in Fortnight Review (Jan. 1996), p.37, finding this volume ‘less content with the world and its violence’ than previously in his previously ‘celebratory annals of the moment’; quotes ‘Gulf War’, ‘their boys/are killing one another under the stars,/kissing the stock, the long stiff coolness/of the barrel, the trigger’s tongue, the little/black hole of a mouth.’

Fred Johnston reviews So it Goes [inter al.], in The Irish Times ( 17 Feb. 1996), Weekend, p.9: Grennan’s work regularly appears in New Yorker; has written ‘interesting, if nostalgic’ article on Michael Hartnett in The Southern Review; speaks of writing about ‘his migrations’ in quotation in Penguin Book of Contemp. Irish Verse, ed Peter Fallon and Derek Mahon (1990), cited in turn in Edna Longley’s article on Irish poets, also in The Southern Review.

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John Greening, review of Selected and New Poems (Gallery 2001), in Times Literary Supplement (13 April 2001), quotes: ‘The weird containing stillness of the neighbourhood / just before the school bus brings the neighbourhood kids / home in the middle of the cold afternoon: a moment / of pure waiting, anticipation, before the outbreak of anything ..’. Also, “The Breakfast Room”: ‘a room so set apart for an event so ordinary”. Also cites poems on subjects such as looking into a partner’s jewellery case, on workmen roofing a college building, [and] things about to happen or happening unnoticed around us, and remarks: ‘their rhythms, for all the lack of metrical imperative or structural variety - are assured, their tone scrupulously consistent and … sincere.’ Quotes, in summary: ‘you know something / about the shape of the life you’ve chosen to live / between the silence of almost infinite possibility and that / explosion of things as they are.’

Seán Lysaght, review of Selected and New Poems (Gallery) in The Irish Times (21 Oct. 2000), writes: ‘When a poet eschews rhyme, as Eamon Grennan almost always does, he invests in the raw kinetic energy of the unaided voice to carry the effect. When the individual is under the pressure of an unusual insight, this approach can work, albeit at a personal cost. Given the atmosphere of unmediated privacy which predominates here, it is the poems dealing with personal vulnerability that ring truest.’

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Bernard O’Donoghue, review of Facing the Music (Creighton UP 2000), in The Irish Times (21 Oct. 2000), Weekend, remarks that the work incls. four papers delivered at Sligo Summer School. The second section, “Compass Reading”, covers poetry of Joyce and Bloom, tropes in Spenser’s View of the Present State of Ireland, and gaps and absences in post-Catholic [John] McGahern. A third section incls. pieces on Kavanagh, Kinsella and Padraic Fallon. Grennan offers strictures on Northern cast of Muldoon’s Faber Book of Contemp. Irish Verse. A fourth section rounds up Irish poetry to 1992, ending with eulogy to Heaney - ‘inspired by Yeats’s incoherent breakfaster’, acc. O’Donoghue, who notes Grennan’s attachment to New Criticism and criticises some of his applications of the same such as the critic’s effort to hit off a poet’s quality in a word; compares spirit of the whole to Grennan’s celebration of Durcan’s ‘hearty willingness to praise’.

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Colin Graham, review of Eamon Grennan, Still Life with Waterfall, in The Irish Times (8 Sept. 2001), Weekend: ‘The exactness, surprise and eerie majesty of the sparrow-hawk’s strike is the kind of moment Grennan aspires to in his writing’. Further: ‘His fascinating faith that the materiality and corporeality of the world hide mysteries eluding description allows the intensity of his thought and his words to find their focus in the instantaneous.’ Graham calls it ‘a rewardingly cerebral and sensually rich collection.’

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Quotations
Uphill home”: ‘When the sun comes directly in this window / I see nothing/but dazzle, molecular jazz / that splits the dancing atoms.’ He can make this perception of the luminous universe converge with very traditional Irishisms, ‘Two old men under the blazing branches of October go/slowly uphill home ahead of me. // I see, though they ar dying, things/beginning to glow from inside out.’ (Quoted in Rand Brandes, Irish Lit. Supplement, book review, Fall 1992, supra.)

At Work”: ‘On slow wings the marsh hawk is patrolling / possibility - soaring, sliding down almost to ground level, / twisting suddenly at something in the marsh hay or dune grass … he will settle there / and take in what’s happened: severing the head first, / then ripping the bright red strings that keep the blood in check, / then eyes, gizzard heart, and so to the bones, cracking / and snapping each one - that moved so swift and silent / and sure of itself, only a minute ago, in the sheltering grass.’ (The Irish Times, 23 Oct. 2001, Weekend Sect.)

Visitation
  Last night you called me out to the December dark
         to look up and see what neither of us
had ever seen before: a burnished flock of Canada geese
         bent into a flexed bow and heading south
across a clear-starred moonless sky in silence,
         winging it to warmer quarters and all lit up -
like mystery, I thought, a lit thing hearing nothing
        but the self we see and savour, but know
no more the meaning of than I know what in the cave
         of its fixed gaze, our cat is thinking. Lit
to the shade of tarnished gold and moving as one,
        they were a mystery to us: why, we asked
their colour, they by daylight simply black winged shapes
         quickening southwards across a sky-blue canvas?
How could they be lit from below like that, from somewhere,
         it seemed, near where we stood on the earth
we shared with them, staring up, the earth that for this
         inhabited minute or two must have been
giving off a light that made these creatures shine for us
who were there by chance - with no moonshine
         to explain it? Then they’re gone, gone on,
although in their aftermath the cold dark we stood
our ground in was, for a little while, neither cold nor dark
         but a place of visitation, and we were in it.
 
—from But the Body (Gallery 2012); rep. in The
Irish Times
, Weekend Review (28.04.2012).

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References
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3: selects from What Light There Is, “A Closer Look”, “Four Deer”; BIOG, 1434 [as supra].

Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “Totem” [248]; “Four Deer” [249]; “Breaking Points” [250].

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Catalogues
COPAC lists Wildly for Days (1983); What Light There Is (1987); Twelve Poems (1988); As If It Matters (1991); So It Goes (1995); trans., Selected poems of Giacomo Leopardi (1995); Relations: New & Selected Poems (1998); Selected and New Poems (2000); Still life with Waterfall (2001). Also, sel. & intro., Seumas O’Kelly, A Land of Loneliness, and Other Stories (1969); ed., with James D. Brophy, New Irish writing: essays in memory of Raymond J. Porter 1989); Facing the Music: Irish Poetry in the Twentieth Century (1999). Also, This Story Shall the Good Man Teach His Son: Henry V and the Art of History (1996).

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