Micheal O’Siadhail


Life
1947- [err. Mícheál Ó Siadhail]; b. 12 Jan. Dublin, ed., Clongowes Wood College; spent some weeks in Aran Islands Gaeltacht and learned Irish, aetat. 14; grad. TCD (Celtic Languages), and and winner of Rev. Thaddeus O’Mahony Prize; studied Scandanavian Languages and Folklore at University of Oslo; completed TCD MLitt thesis (Foirm an fhreaghra [Form of the Question], 1971); appt. lecturer in linguistics (Irish), TCD, 1969-73, taking over Irish classes from Máirtín O Cadhain after 1970;
 
learnt Welsh, Icelandic, Norwegian and Catalan; contrib. to Comhar, An t-Ultach, and Deirdre, et al.; issued Téarmaí Tógála agus Tís as Inis Meáin (1978), a lexical study of Aran; resigned to write; research assistant, DIAS, 1974-80; assistant professor 1980-87; issued An Bhliain Bhisigh (1978), poetry; became full-time writer; became a member of Aosdána at its inception, 1982; served on Arts Council, 1988; joined Cultural Relations Committee (DFA), 1989; instrumental in setting up Irish Literature Exchange, and served as chairman, 1993-2000;
 
toured in UK, Germany, Japan and American, reading at Glucksman Hse., NYU, Oct. 2002; also in USA in 1997; issued Learning Irish (Yale 1997), a book and cassette; Our Double Time (1998), and Poems 1975-1995 (1999), including nine collections except the last; issued The Gossamer Wall (2002), a collection in witness to the Jewish holocaust, commended by Wingate Jewish Quarterly;
 
took up sailing in Dún Laoghaire; issued Love Life (2005), a poetry collection; his essays were collected as Musics of Belonging (2007), with a full-length seated cover port. by Mick O’Dea which appeared again, cropped, on the cover of Collected Poems (2013); issued further collections Globe (2007) and Tongues (2010); his wife is Brid Ni Cearhbaill, a native speaker from the Donegal Gaeltacht. OCIL

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Works
Poetry collections
  • An Bhliain Bhisigh (Baile Átha Cliath: Clóchomhar Teo 1978), 32pp., and Do., in English as Springnight (Bluett 1983), 55pp.;
  • Runga (Baile Átha Cliath: Clóchomhar Teo 1980), 73pp.;
  • Cumann (1982);
  • The Image Wheel (Dublin: Bluett & Co. 1985), 49pp.;
  • The Chosen Garden (1990);
  • Hail! Madam Jazz: New and Selected Poems (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1992), 160pp [incl. translations from volumes in Irish];
  • A Fragile City (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books; Chester Springs: Dufour Edns. 1995), 78pp.;
  • Our Double Time (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books 1998), 128pp. [sects., ‘Wakings, ‘Out of Eden’, ‘Namings’, ‘Crosslight’, and ‘Voices’];
  • Poems 1975-1995 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books 1999), 240pp.;
  • The Gossamer Wall: Poems In Witness to the Holocaust (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 2002), 128pp. [cover ill. by Tony O’Malley];
  • Love Life (Newcastle-on-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books 2005), 117pp.;
  • Tongues (Tarset: Bloodaxe Books 2010), 208pp.
  • Collected Poems ([Tarset: Bloodaxe Books] 2013), 828pp. [hb & pb both with audio-CD].
Miscellaneous
  • [a bhailigh,] Téarmaí Tógála agus Tís as Inis Meáin (Baile Átha Cliath: Institiuíd Ardleánn Bhaile Átha Cliath 1978), xiii, 76pp. [lexicon].
  • Learning Irish: A Self-Introductory Tutor [textbook & tapes] (Dublin: DIAS 1980), and Do. [rep. edn.] (Yale UP 1988), 331pp. [with detail from Jack B. Yeats's “In the Tram” as cover image];
  • Modern Irish: Grammatical Structure and Dialectal Variation (Cambridge UP 1991), 387pp.
Journalism
  • ‘Spiral’, poem, in Times Literary Supplement (30 Jan. 1998), [q.p.].
  • ‘Poetry and Society’, in Poetry Ireland Review, 33 (Winter 1991), q.pp. [as editor?].
  • Foreword to Jan de Fouw, Amergin (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 2000), 40pp. [afterword by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill].

See O’Siadhail reading “Between” and “Transit” from his Collected Poems (Bloodaxe 2013) in In Person: 30 Poets a DVD book filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce and edited by Neil Astley which includes five such poems at Bloodaxe Books - online [accessed 20.10.2013].

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Criticism
Catríona O’Reilly, review of Our Double Time (Bloodaxe) ‘Things’ thinginess’, “Poetry now” in Irish Times (16 May 1998), [q.p.]; Marc Caball & David F. Ford, Music of Belonging: The Poetry of Micheal O’Siadhail (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2007), 247pp. See reviews in Commentary [infra].

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Commentary
John Devitt
, ‘Witnesses and Prophets: Some Soundings in Recent Irish Poetry’, Anne M. Murphy and Eoin G. Cassidy, ‘Witnesses and Prophets’, from Spirituality and the Arts (Four Courts Press 1997), 114-36pp., espec. pp.128f.: ‘O’Siadhail’s poems are written in the optative mood, giving shpae and form to our desire, and are themselves contrived to produce in words the very occasions they celebrate so intensely. He gives us our just desserts … his poems are instances of the courtesy they celebrate.’ (p.129.)

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Kevan Johnson review of Our Double Time (1998) in Times Literary Supplement (8 Jan. 1999), [q.p.]; cites paeon to Louis Armstrong; further, cites references to George Herbert; notices that the ‘uncomplicated rhyme schemes’ with ‘a preference for democratic language’ with staccato (i.e., jazz) effects; occasionally exhibits ‘one of the pitfalls of compulsory rhyme’; calls O’Siadhail a ‘gatherer-hunter, happily eclectic; cites poems, “March On” (Armstrong); “No Stranger”, “Apprentice”, and “Quartet”, quoting lines ‘Do the muses only mend the hearts they break? / To know how easily a voice can suddenly waver. / Hold the note. You hold it for the music’s sake. / Clear and true. Percision of a demisemiquaver. / Unbearable joy. A Gaiety grieving and intense / Of phrases looping back to silence.’

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Fred Johnston, reviewing The Gossamer Wall: Poems in Witness to the Holocaust (Bloodaxe), in Books Ireland (May 2003), writes of O’Siadhail’s ‘heart-wrenching poems’ and quotes: ‘The overlords and barons of print and screen,/Oligarchies of news/Shaping our images. Everything overseen …’ - comparing the theme ironically with the Israeli exclusion of Palestinian entrants from poetry readings and film festivals; wonders at some length if the event can be represented and points to occasions in the poems when O’Siadhail tries to answer that question (e.g., ‘For some, for a while, bitter and sweet parallel / As rifts of light blink through the walls of hell’: “Chinks”); remarks, ‘This is, all in all, a fascinating book, a book of windows into a terror we in our soft Irihsness cannot begin to imagine. It’s a credit to Michael O’Siadhail and a brutal reminder to all of us.’ (pp.118-19.)

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[Shirley Kelly], ‘To be Without Root or History?’, interview-article in Books Ireland (Feb. 2007), p.5, includes quotations: ‘Language is not an issue for me [...] Poetry is what matters. It suited me as a poet to write in Irish initially, in maybe the way that Milton and Donne learned their art through Latin. Then I made an artistic decision to write in English. It suited my themes and preoccupations.’ Further: ‘It’s not that I loved one thing less, but the other thing more. My dream from childhood had been to devote myself to poetry and when I was finally able to do that, it was a quantum leap. Where once there was a structure to my collections, an angle of vision, now there was an architecture. 1 know many writers who would feel confined in some way by dedicating themselves to writing alone, and 1 understand that, but it seems to suit my temperament. The decision to write full-time marked the beginning of the best years of my life.’ Of Globe (2007): ‘I suppose it’s a collection that shows my age[.] When you were twenty, you owned the world and everything was possible and you could change anything. At sixty you feel like you’re being swept along by huge social forces beyond your control and you get to thinking: who shapes history? who was in the right place at the right time to ie the knots of history? how do we remember those who went before us and will we become a rootless and historyless society with no time for reflection? And yet the changes we have witnessed, the globalised economy and huge advances in technology offer great possibilities. Now, more than ever, the lessons of history can be applied, but first they must be learnt.’ Also remarks that he was much moved at school by poems in Poets and Poetry for Irish Schools and ‘they filled me with peculiar tears, half delight and half a strange boundless desire. A moment became a touchstone and shaped a life.’

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John McAuliffe, review of O’Siadhail’s Collected Poems [with Selected Poems, by Patrick Deeley], in The Irish Times (12 Oct. 2013), Weekend Review, p.13: ‘O’Siadhail’s style remains fairly uniform across the 828 pages of Collected Poems. He consistently uses a regular line and stanza length, and the poems reiterate key terms such as “city”, “fragile”, “jazz”, “gene”, “blur”, “dust” and “stranger”. Rather than bedding his poems down with specific images or references to particular places and sounds, O’Siadhail produces work that is, as that vocabulary implies, more discursive and abstract than most contemporary poetry. The Chosen Garden, for instance, recounts the poet’s time at a boarding school but reaches for archetypal experiences rather than dwelling on any particular moment or place. A parental visit is described: “We are visitors for each other. / Unwittingly those weeks of initiation leave / a baffle between us. Our words fall short. / I am learning another language, another lore” (Visit). / O’Siadhail’s books in turn report and discuss his experiences, of school, a long marriage and, latterly, his responses to the Holocaust, globalisation and other languages. Those last two subjects are the starting points for his most recent collections, Globe (2007) and Tongues (2010), which are admirably interested in trying out new kinds of line and form as they jam together his disorienting sense of a changing world with his memories of what has disappeared [quotes]: 

Into the blue of other flights and offbeat
Loop the loops to retrieve out of the lurch
Of fashion things we thought we’d
outgrown,
Out of date jingles on a mobile telephone
Where we just scroll quickly down to search
Our main menu’s options and thumb
delete.
(Touchdown)

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References
Andrew Carpenter & Peter Fallon, eds., The Writers: A Sense of Place (Dublin: O’Brien Press 1980), selects short poems, with photo-port.

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Quotations
Spiral”, a poem, appeared in Times Literary Supplement, 30 Jan. 1998: ‘Spiral of dialogue, a quartet’s yearning twist, / An outpouring and her mind wanders. She’ll return / To a violin grieving over moments she has missed. // Even the most voluptuous sound is already gone /As she listens, that one sweet touch of a rim /Against the ground and the wheel is rolling on. // Still the touch, a wonderful kiss as we meet. / My friends, my friends, the sliding bow knows / How every tune is faring. We parted as we greet. // Stabs and cries ascend A-minor’ s stairs. / She wants to hear and hear her heart out /Why must this cadenza catch us unawares? // And lest ye be like gods. To learn the fullness / Of finitude, a joy always in the light of an end. / This music she loves keeps preparing its stillness.’

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Fragile: ‘Cluster of monks gathered in a first/Burgeoning, that strange lyrical outburst/Of separate worlds just newly spliced:/The lush blackbird, the eastern Christ.’ (A Fragile City, p.66.)

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In Memoriam Máirtín Ó Cadháin’: ‘I see you returning ten generations on, / defiant and full of youth, / demanding how three hundred years have gone. / Tighten the saddle-girth; / your feet must never touch the earth’ (The Chosen Garden, 1990, pp.42-3).

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