W. R. Rodgers


Life
1909-1969; [William Robert; called “Bertie”], b. Mountpottinger, E. Belfast. ed. QUB, grad. in English, 1931; entered Presbyterian Theol. College; ord. 1935, served as minister, at Loughgall, Co. Armagh, 1935-1946 [var. 12 yrs.]; m. Marie Harden Waddell; wrote and published sexually liberated poetry; issued Awake! and Other Poems (1941), professing in the introduction that it contained all his poems to date, none written more than three years earlier; first edition almost lost in Blitz;
 
his wife suffered from schizophrenia, leading to his temporary retirement in 1943; Marie treated at Oxford by Dr. Lanyard, and later moved to Edinburgh to train as a psychoanalyst, shortly before her final illness and death in 1953; resigned from ministry formally, 1946; accepted BBC producer job offered by MacNeice, working as a script-writer at the Third Programme; settled in London; also occupied Essex farmhouse; contrib. BBC in 3rd Prog. Features Dept.;
 
elected MIAL on death of GB Shaw, in 1951; also a member of the Literature and Poetry Panel of the Arts Council (GB) and a board of Arts Council (NI); contrib. to Lagan, Rann and The Bell; suffered death of his wife, 1953; married Marianne [née Helweg - former wife of his BBC superior Lawrence Gilliam], 1953; went free-lance, 1953; lived in Essex farmhouse, and entertained Gerald Dillon there, writing The Return Room (BBC Dec. 1955), a play set in the Belfast 1920s, answering Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood - itself set in fictional Llareggub, and based on New Quay, Ceredigion; involved himself with the Ulster Regionalist Movement, led by John Hewitt;
 
collaborated with MacNeice on Character of Ireland, a compilation of essays, which remained unpublished though Rodgers persisted with it after MacNeice’s death in 1963; compiled Irish Literary Portraits (pub. 1972), originally composed as BBC broadcasts; appt. writer in residence at Pitzer College, Clairmont, [Los Angeles] California, 1966; later app. to California State Polytechnic; embarked on an oral history of Irish literary renaissance, with funding from Chapelbook Foundation (Boston, Mass.); wrote the preface only; the work was completed by his wife and issued as Irish Literary Portraits (1972) - though many subjects such as Richard Best are omitted from that publication and preserved in MS;
 
counted his recordings of the memoirs of those who knew the leading literary figures and protagonists of the revival and the Rising as his ‘most intensive and significant work over the past twenty years’; times and d. in Los Angeles, 1969; received a £100 annuity by the Dublin Arts Council, citing the honour that his work had reflected ‘on this country’, 1968; d. Los Angeles; bur. Loughgall; his Collected Poems were edited by Dan Davin (1971) - incl. “Home Thoughts from Abroad”; known affectionately as the ‘Catholic Presbyterian’; Rodgers’ persona at the BBC is satirised a length in Anthony Cronin’s The Life of Riley (1964);
 
Hardin Rodgers, a some-time TCD lecturer in English, is his daughter; there are papers in the NI Public Records Office (Nov. 2007), which includes a printer’s copy of of the collected poems with MS comments by James Stephens; Austin Clarke and John Hewitt are also well-represented; Return Room, a memoir of childhood at Mountpottinger, was published in 2011 with the illustrations made for it contemporaneously by Gerald Dillon; the biography by Darcy O’Brien (1970) draws on dream-notebooks and other uncollected writings; Seamus Heaney read from his works at a memorial service in First Ballymacarrett Presbyterian Church, 1969. DIB DIW DIL ORM FDA HAM OCIL
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Works
Poetry
  • Awake! and Other Poems (London: Secker & Warburg 1941), 69pp. [Qry; rep. 1947];
  • Europa and the Bull (London: Secker & Warburg 1952), 94pp.;
  • Collected Poems, ed., with an introductory memoir by Dan Davin (London: OUP 1971), xxv, 149pp.;
  • Poems [of] W. R. Rodgers, ed. Michael Longley (Dublin: Gallery Press 1993) [1 85235 106 3; also video.]
See also an unpublished play for the BBC, The Return Room (1955) [verse playscript dealing with Belfast].
Prose
  • Irish Literary Portraits: W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, James Joyce, George Moore, George Bernard Shaw, Oliver St. John Gogarty, F. R. Higgins, AE [George Russell], Broadcast Conversations with Those Who Knew Them (London: BBC 1972), 7, xix, 236pp., and do. [another edn.] (NY: Taplinger 1973) [see contents].
  • The Return Room, ill. Gerald Dillon (Belfast: Blackstaff Press [2011]), 96pp. [hb.]
Articles
  • ‘How I Write a Poem’, Threshold, 37 (Winter 1986/87), pp.20-25.
Miscellaneous
  • Essex Roundabout [ ...] (Colchester: Benham & Co 1963), 63pp., with drawings by Meg Stevens;
  • Ireland in Colour: A Collection of Forty Colour Photographs with an introductory text and notes […] by W. R. Rodgers (London. B. T. Batsford 1957), 110pp.; ISBN 0 563 10347];
  • The Ulstermen and Their Country [British Council] (London: Longmans Green & Co. [1947]) 31pp., .ill. [map], 8°.
 

See also letters in Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis (London: Hart-Davis 1962)

Recordings
  • Europa and the Bull: W. R. Rodgers Reading from his Second Volume (London: Argo 1953-54).

Papers in Northern Ireland Public Records Office as W R Rodgers Papers (D2833)
Table of Contents
Summary
Biographical background
The Papers
    Arrangement of the Archive
    Presbyterianism and Poetry
    Correspondence
    Radio, television and the stage
    Rodgers in America
    Collector of manuscripts
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3
6
6
6
7
7
8
8
See PDF version at PRONI - online; accessed 29.07.2011.

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Bibliographical details
Irish Literary Portraits
(BBC 1972): W. B. Yeats, 1-22; James Joyce, 22-76 [two sections on the younger and the older artist]; George Moore, 75-93; Shaw, pp.117-42; , Oliver St. John Gogarty, 142-68; F. R. Higgins, 169-184; AE (George Russell), pp.185-203; additional section, ‘Old Ireland Free’, being memories of 1916, with Seamus O’Suillivan, Edward Stephens, Richard best, Oliver St. John Gogarty, George Roberts, Fred O’Donovan, Cecil Salkeld, Liam Ó Briain, Bulmer Hobson, Desmond Ryan, Pearse Beasley, Cathal O’Shannon, Helena Maloney, Sean McGarry, [?et al.]

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Criticism
  • Kingsley Amis, ‘Ulster Bull’, Essays in Criticism, III, 4 (1953), pp.470-75 [dismissive essay, cited by Terence Brown, Northern Voices, 1975];
  • Robert Greacen, ‘The Poetry of W. R. Rodgers’, Rann, No. 14 [Autumn 1954], pp.14-18;
  • Darcy O’Brien, W. R. Rodgers (Lewisburg: Bucknell UP 1970), 103pp. [draws on dream-notebooks and other uncollected writings];
  • Terence Brown, ‘W. R. Rodgers, Romantic Calvinist’, in Northern Voices: Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), pp.114-27;
  • Terence Brown, ‘The Poetry of W. R. Rodgers and John Hewitt’, in Douglas Dunn, ed., Two Decades of Irish Writing (Manchester: Carcanet 1975), pp.81-97;
  • [q. auth.,] ‘The Dissidence of Dissent: John Hewitt and W. R. Rodgers’, in Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley, eds., Across the Roaring Hill, The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985), pp.139-60;
  • Peter McDonald, ‘The Fate of Identity: John Hewitt, W. R. Rodgers, and Louis MacNeice’, in Mistaken Identities: Poetry and Northern Ireland (Oxford: OUP 1997), pp.10-[80].
See also biographical and critical remarks W. R. Rodgers: Papers in Northern Ireland Public Records Office (D2833) [online - accessed 29.07.2011].

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Commentary

Conor Cruise O’Brien: ‘Bertie Rodgers was an Ulster Presbyterian who sought and enjoyed the company of Southern Catholics. The case is not unique: it remains unusual. [...] He was, among so much else, a good Dubliner and Dublin loved him.’ (Introduction to Irish Literary Portraits, 1`972, pp.ix-x; quoted in PRONI Papers of W. R. Rodgers, p.4, online.)


Patrick Kavanagh, ‘Paris in Aran’, in Kavanagh’s Weekly (7 June 1952, p.7): ‘I bought the Penguin edition of the plays of Synge solely for the Introduction by W. R. Rodgers, for at a glance anyone could see that Mr Rodgers is a remarkable bucklepper. Sorry for using that word again, but it is the word that best fits this thing. / Mr Rodgers is a word-weaver, a phrase-maker the equal of any Radio Éireann writer. / There is something to be said for Rodgers’ bucklepping Irishness: he is out of touch with anything that may be called Irish and he is not good enough to live without a country. / Sometimes I am tempted to forget the Protestant friends of this paper and to cry “What dreadful humbug Protestantism!” Then I remember all the bouncing Roman boys and 1 begin to wonder if stupidity and charlatanism has any particular religion. / But because of all this, Mr Rodgers is well qualified to introduce Synge: he is a Protestant clergyman, and Synge was connected with that profession. […].’ (Rep. in A Poet’s Country: Selected Prose of Patrick Kavanagh, ed. Antoinette Quinn, Dublin: Lilliput Press 2003, pp.189-92; p.189; see further remarks, some of which appear under Synge, Commentary, infra; also from Kavanagh’s Weekly, No. 9, in Patrick Kavanagh > Quotations, supra.)

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John Montague, ‘The Impact of International Modern Poetry on Irish Writing’, in Irish Poets in English: The Thomas Davis Lectures on Anglo-Irish Poetry, ed. Sean Lucy, Cork: Mercier Press 1972): ‘Another false trail, from the point of view of this lecture, is the work of W. R. Rodgers, the parson poet from Co. Armagh. His Awake! and Other Poems appeared in 1941 and its cascade of language might almost have been a warning to other Irish poets, caught in a neutral backwater: “Always the arriving winds of words / Pour like Atlantic gales over these cars ...” / And sure enough, there were poems with Audenesque titles like “Directions to a Rebel”, “War-Time”, and even “End of a World”. According to those close to him, however, Rodgers had not read Auden, or even Hopkins, which is astonishing: can one imagine a physicist, however remote, who had never heard of Neils Bohr or Schrodinger? / [...] The best work of W. R. Rodgers [...] seems to me to be in his second book, a handful of religious and love lyrics which are colloquial in diction, but traditional in imagery. But the necessary task of providing Ireland with a contemporary poetry still had to be continued.’ (p.154; for full text, see RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics”, infra.)

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Derek Mahon, ‘An Imprudential Poet’, review of Poems of W. R. Rodgers, ed. Michael Longley (Irish Times, 1993); rep. in Journalism: Selected Prose 1970-1995I (Gallery Press 1996), pp.88-91; quotes with approbation Terence Brown, ‘Perhaps if he had had the benegit of richly sense poetic tradition when he bagan to write, his remarkable talent might have been held in check. But, deprived of such nurture, his work representes a sudden wild profusion […] that, sadly, ran to seed.’ (p.88); Mahon illustrates this by showing that Rodgers, in describing Europa sitting ‘idly’ on the bull’s back, clearly has no sense of poetic tradition and particularly misses ‘her fluttering clothes, tremulae sinuantur flamine vestes’, of Ovid’s original. (p.89.)

Seamus Heaney, ‘Feeling into Words’, in Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-78 (Faber 1980): ‘[W. R. Rodgers was] much lured by alliteration’ - quoting: ‘an abrupt people/ Who like the spiky consonants of speech …’] (pp.41-60; p.[44].)

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Quotations
An Ulster Protestant’: In an unsigned article in The Bell in 1942, Rodgers wrote of Protestant Ulster’s mode of speech: ‘The Protestant has a sharp expulsive, jerky accent, as if he were trying to dig out of himself something that he has been thinking ... The Protestant Ulsterman has halts and supressions of feeling in his speech, is slow to communicate, reserved, self-conscious, inarticulate and therefore makes his connections with other people through logic rather than emotion ... He would like to have eloquence. But he suspects and hates eloquence that has no bone of logic in it. It seems to him glib, spineless, and insincere.’ (The Bell, Vol. IV, No. 5, Aug. 1942, p.309; quoted in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975).

Also: ‘The shadow, the unwanted word that makes its way in, uninvited, on the tail of another words – why, every poem is full of these uninvited guests. And thank God too, because they are the divine visitors, and in entertaining them we entertain angels unawares.’ (Ibid., quoted in Brown, op. cit., [p.12.])

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The Ulster Catholic: ‘The Catholic is a charming and courteous person, open in manner and eloquent in speech. His faults are those of volatility “easy come, easy go”. “A glib person”, says the Protestant. […] The Ulster Protestant is a cautious, logical and far-seeing person in speech and action and he distrusts eloquence. His virtue is that of stability. “A stiff person”, says the Catholic.’ (“Poems Reprinted”, in Community Forum, Vol. 4, No. 1 [1947]; quoted in Dominic Murray, Worlds Apart: Segregated Schools in Northern Ireland, Appletree Press 1985, p.8.)

The Ulstermen and Their Country (1947): ‘[...] these characters, Protestant and Catholic are complementary [...] One takes a long view of life, the other a short and roundabout one. One is thoughtful and individual, the other is emotional and communal. One tends to a democratic and progressive way of life, the other to a hieratic and static. It is this diversity and interplay of opposites that makes Ulster life such a rich and fascinating spectacle.’ (Quoted in Joanne Savage, review of A Salute from the Banderol: : The Selected Writings of Sam Hanna Bell, ed. Fergus Hanna Bell, at Culture northernireland.org - online [dated 15.04.2010; accessed 05.12.2011.]

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The Dance of Words’: ‘[W]ords like to leap, to laugh, to be in two places at once, to have double meanings and double crossings, to flash from likeness to like of image, and branch to branch of sounds, and bid farewell to each welcome.’ (New Statesman and Nation, 1 Aug., 1953, p.126; quoted in Terence Brown, op. cit., 1975.)

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Balloons and Maggots’: ‘No poet to my knowledge ever sits down and says to himself, “I’m going to write a poem in iambic pentameter.” No, all he knows is that there’s a certain pressure of experience within him which asks for expression. There’s a power of words that is imprisoned and like underground water-springs they are bursting to be let out.’ (Rann, No. 14 [Autumn 1954], p.11; quoted in Terence Brown, op. cit., 1975.)

Time to Kill’: ‘Nothing pleases me more than to sit on both sides of the fense, and if there were six sides I would sit on them all ...’ (New Statesman and Nation, 21 March 1953, p.336; quoted in Terence Brown, op. cit., 1975.)

Too fond of words: ‘The Irish are much too fond of the spoken word to bother much about the written word.’ (Quoted in Laurence Flanagan, Irish Humorous Quotations, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994.)

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Ulster speech (1): ‘[B]rusque and Protestant, / or whom the world is still a fightly word, / Who bristle into reticence at the sounds/Of the round gift of the gab in Southern mouths./Mine were not born with silver spoons in gob, / Nor would they thank you for the gift of tongues; / he dry riposte, the bitter repartees, / The Northman’s bite and portion, his deep sup / Is silence; though, still within his shell/He holds the old sea-roar and surge of rhetoric and Holy Writ.’ (Collected Poems, 147[f.]; quoted [with further lines], in Terence Brown, op. cit., 1975, pp.125-26.)

Ulster Speech (2): ‘I am Ulster, my people an abrupt people / Who like the spiky consonants in speech / And think the [?soft] ones cissy, who [hears] / The k and t in orchestra, detect sin / In sinfonia, get a kick of / Tin cans, fricatives, fornication, / staccato talk, / Anything that gives or takes attack […]’ (q. source).

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Quick, woman, in your net / Catch the silver I fling! / O I am deep in your debt / Draw tight, skin-tight, the string, And rake the silver in. / No fisher ever yet / Drew such a cunning ring.’

The Stone-Men’ [Chap. 17], ‘… the tiny clustered clinks/Of little chisels tinkling tirelessly/On stone […].’ (Verses quoted as epigraph to E. Estyn Evans, Mourne Country, Dundalgan Press 1951, p.155.)

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The Ulstermen and the Country: ‘These characters, Protestant and Catholic, are complementary. They make to halves of life. One takes a long view of life, the other short and roundabout one. One is thoughtful and individual, the other is emotional and communal. One tends to a democratic and progressive way of life, the other to a hieratic and static. it is this diversity and interplay of opposites that makes Ulster life such a rich and fascinating spectacle.’ (Quoted in Sam Hanna Bell, ‘A Banderol’ [introduction], Arts in Ulster, 1931, p.13.)

Racial clash: ‘Wherever two racial patterns meet and clash blindly there is a wave thrown up between them, a creative wave of self-consciousness. And this is happening in Ulster to-day. You will find there a new and growing awareness in literature and painting and architecture.’ ([?Evans, op. cit.,] p.19.)

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References
Belfast Public Library (1956 Cat.) holds Europa and the Bull, and other Poems (1957); The Ulstermen and their Country (n.d.).

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, selects from Awake! and Other Poems, ‘White Christmas; from Europa and the Bull, ‘Lent’, ‘The Net’ [pp.166-68; Biog., p.170.] Collected Poems (OUP 1971).

Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “Snow” [101]; “Lent” [103]; “The Net” [104]; “Stormy Night” [105].

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British Library holds Awake! and Other Poems. London: Secker & Warburg 1941. 69pp. 8o.; Collected Poems. London: Oxford University Press 1971. xxv, 149pp. 23 cm.; Essex roundabout ... with drawings by Meg Stevens. Colchester: Benham & Co 1963. 63pp. 24 cm.; Europa and the Bull, and other poems. 94pp. Secker & Warburg: London, 1952. 8o.; Ireland in Colour. A collection of forty colour photographs. With an introductory text and notes on the illustrations by W. R. Rodgers. London. B. T. Batsford 1957. 110pp. 8o.; Irish literary portraits [of W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, George Moore, George Bernard Shaw, Oliver St John Gogarty, F. R. Higgins, AE.] W. R. Rodger’s broadcast conversations with those who knew them. London: British Broadcasting Corporation 1972. 7, xix, 236pp.. 24 cm. [ISBN 0 563 10347]; The Ulstermen and their Country. [with illustrations]. 31pp. [British Council] London: Longmans Green & Co. [1947] 8o.;

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Notes
The Return Room (BBC Dec. 1955): a radio play written in June 1955, while Gerard Dillon was visiting Rodgers in his Essex farmhouse. It was written in response to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood - the whole written with ‘Gerard Dillon’s voice in my mind’ as the latter sung his songs. The play evokes Belfast in the 1920s as a city of tugboats and May Queens, ‘ships and shawlies, doles and doyleys’, surrounded by a ‘halo of hills’ and caught in ‘a  hug-me-tight of holiness’. The Blackstaff Press edition includes the illustrations drawn by Dillon to accompany the script, reflecting their shared memories of Belfast; also a CD of the original 1955 recording in which Rodgers takes the part of the narrator and Dillon performs traditional Belfast songs such as ‘My Lagan Love’ and ‘You’d Easy Know a Doffer’. (See Blackstaff notice - online; accessed 29.07.2011.)

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