Justin Quinn


Life
1968- ; b. Dublin; ed. TCD (BA Hons); TCD PhD (“The Open Land N nature and Landscape in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens”, 1995); ed. poetry magazine Metre, with David Wheatley and others; issued The ‘O’o’a’a’ Bird (1995), shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection; also Privacy (1999); also a study of Wallace Stevens (UCD Press 2002), containing a section on Thomas MacGreevy;
 
joint-editor of Metre, with David Wheatley and others; sometime contrib. editor to Contemporary Poetry Review; issued Fuselage (2002), poems; issued American Errancy: Empire, Sublimity and Modern Poetry (2005) and Waves and Trees (2006); trans. Petr Borkovec, from Czech (2008); bursary writer at Princess Grace Irish Library, 2009; issued Close Quarters (2011), new poems; issued Mount Merrion (2013), a novel; teaches English at Charles Univ., Prague (Czech Rep.), where he lives with his wife and son.

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Works
Poetry
  • The ‘O’o’a’a’ Bird (Manchester: Carcanet 1995);
  • Privacy (Manchester: Carcanet 1999), 64pp.;
  • Fuselage (Dublin: Gallery Press 2002), 62pp.; Waves and Trees (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2006), 78pp.; trans.,
  • From the Interior: Poems 1995-2005 [by Petr Borkovec] (Bridgend, Wales: Seren 2008), 120pp. [parallel text];
  • Close Quarters (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2011), 78pp.
Fiction
  • Mount Merrion (Penguin Ireland 2013), 320pp.
Criticism
  • Gathered Beneath the Storm: Wallace Stevens, Nature and Community (UCD Press 2002), ix, 157pp.;
  • American Errancy: Empire, Sublimity and Modern Poetry (UCD Press 2005), 186pp. [Ralph Waldo Emerson, et al.];
  • The Cambridge Introduction to Modern Irish Poetry, 1800-2000 (Cambridge UP 2008), x, 246pp.;
  • ed., Irish Poetry After Feminism [Princess Grace Irish Lectures, 10] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2009), 107pp. [ltd. edn. 250 copies].
Miscellaneous
  • contrib. “The Weather of Poetry” to Sewanee Review (Summer 2003), q.pp.;
  • ‘Outsiders on the Inside’, review of Landing Places: Immigrant Poets in Ireland, ed. Eva Bourke & Borbála Faragó, in The Irish Times (20 March 2010), Weekend.

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Commentary
Colin Graham, ‘Antidote to an allergy to poetry’, review of Justin Quinn, Fuselage (Gallery), in The Irish Times (8 Jan. 2003), Weekend [with another by Dennis O’Driscoll]: ‘[...] Fuselage is one of the most exciting and innovative collections of Irish poetry in recent years. Its voice is intellectual and caring. It is written with ingenuity and integrity. The collection ends with a poem on the birth of a son, and it is probably the bravest of all in the collection, since it does not sentimentally shy away from the world made so vividly suffocating in the rest of the book. As the world seems to tighten around the child a video recorder clicks on, “is focused and the footage runs and runs”. With the child’s life already, entering the electronic mediation which pervades Fuselage, the collection ends poised between the father’s “stockstill” wonder at his child and the child’s mother “emptied on the bed”. It’s a movingly honest, half-full, half-empty, image to end a collection of definitively contemporary and truly lasting poetry.’ (See full text, infra.)

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Philip Coleman, review of Close Quarters [with collections by others], in The Irish Times (20 Aug. 2011), Weekend, p.11: ‘[...] Although his primal scene of instruction may have been a classroom in south Co Dublin, however, Quinn remains transfixed by and obsessed with non-Irish cultures and contexts. / This, indeed, is one of the chief values of his poetry, because his poetic engagements with Irish culture, unlike the interventions of his critical writing, often lack the kind of insight one finds in poems such as “Musílkova” or “The Months”, with its haunting images of “the rusting factories of Karlin and Zizkov” and “the delta as a mess of leaves / and feathers, scattered papers, thrums of nets”. In the sixth section of “The Months” we are told that “Dave mentioned on the phone how June had hit him / with memories of the Leaving Cert”, and this return to the realm of formal education, and the inability to escape it, is a recurring source of tension in Quinn’s work. In Seminar the speaker – a lecturer in American literature, like the author – loves “the way [his students] sit / and use their bodies to nuance what they say”, and he has to “lean forward to catch the drift of it”. In another poem, a father proudly carries his infant “daily to the crèche / along the path, our prince / or princess, full of beans”. However, one yearns for Quinn to write poems that might be less obedient to their formal routes and ways of saying, for him to take a detour along the way signalled in poems such as First Spring Days, for example, or closer towards the true emotional centre of Close Quarters, which is to be found in poems such as Couple and Divorce. Quinn is an exacting formalist, and there are times, in A Shrike, say, or Elegy, when his lyrics almost soar, but the burden of the schoolbag tends at times to weigh him down.’

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Ailbhe Darcy, ‘A Tiny Space of Little Importance’, review of Mount Merrion, in Dublin Review of Books, 47 (16 Dec. 2013): ‘Justin Quinn’s debut novel opens in the shiny new Galway Regional Hospital of the 1950s,[...] As the book opens, it is not clear whether either the hospital or the Irish Republic will thrive, or whether each will be left to “rust like an impressive wreck on the wild rocks of the western coast”. Quinn’s novel tells the story of the next forty years, placing a man called Declan Boyle at its centre. Boyle, born into privilege, is a patient at the hospital for one brief lull before his life unfolds. He plans to spend that life in service to the idea of Ireland. He will conjure a whole town’s worth of jobs from nothing, yet he will leave the stage wreathed in shame at the book’s close. [...] Mount Merrion draws to a close at the height of the Celtic Tiger era. Mark Turpin is the tiger cub attempting to break his way into the Boyles’ sphere. His great fault, the novel implies, is that he expects success to happen for him easily and fast, in contrast with Declan Boyle’s brave risk-taking and long hard slog. Brash, sexist and dumb, the young cub bears traces of Blackrock’s satirical finest, Ross O’Carroll Kelly. Turpin is there to fill us in on all the gossipy details of the newly prosperous Dublin – the brand-names, bars and “burnished and botoxed women” – with a blithe ignorance of his own absurdity. He makes for entertaining reading; but I could not shake the sense that, inside the satire, there was a full-fledged human trying to get out. [...] I have a soft spot for Mark Turpin. But I also wonder why Quinn could not extend a fuller measure of depth, complexity and history to Turpin’s generation of would-be movers and shakers, such is his generosity to Boyle’s maligned generation.’ (- available online [accessed 15.12.2013].)

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Quotations
The Old Communists
[poem]: ‘You meet them at mid-afternoon receptions / Where they have come from their small offices / In ministries. They smile and profess / An interest in the IMF and options … What they won’t mention: x years back the period / When in the role of high apparachiks / They suddenly found that three or so rough weeks / And their Socialist Republic had disappeared, // Much as when in a crowded train you find / Your wallet gone, the banknotes and IDs / Spirited away by murderers and thieves, / And other bastards of that kind.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 26 Oct. 2001, p.24.)

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Linger, tag, let go”: ‘Linger, tag, and let go / And drift off through the children’s furniture, / While I do lighting. / Crowds on a loop, they flow / And gaze considering their futures / Spent with each beautifully designed bright thing. […].’ (The Irish Times [Weekend], 2 Nov. 2001, p.9.)

“Rear Lounge”
Best for daytime drinking. Such a view -
the high board and the baths, but more than that,
the sea itself which moved from gloss to matt
and back while changing tints in front of you,
and some days joined with air to form a wall
of marvellous haze that hid away the land.
Suddenly I don’t know where I stand.
On days Like this, don’t try to stand at all.
Printed in The Irish Times (26 Sept. 2009), Weekend, p.10.
 
“For Amelia Stein”

The world came out of clouds when Mendel Stein
snapped glasses on my head. About thirteen,
I stood in his small shop off Camden Street,
framed in its window, like a giant’s eye,

and heard him banter with my father and greet
new customers. Outside the state strolled by,
still black and white, still cold under the collar,
a decade till the shift to technicolor.
And now the prints come in his daughter took
of my father and my sons. She has their measure.
My father told me that she’ll have a look
at how much light comes through the tall embrasure

and angle its white shutters so they synch
with the Hasselblad’s low repeated blink,
or throw a cushlon nearby on the floor
to bring them from the dark a different way.
My blood, and yet her monochromes show more
than I could ever see myself, or say.
Justin Quinn

Printed in The Irish Times (10 July. 2010), Weekend, p.10.

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