David Wheatley


1970- ; b. in England; early life in Dublin, nr. Ballsbridge; brought up in Bray, Co. Wicklow; grad. TCD (English), and edited Icarus; winner of Frields Nation Poetry prize (£1,000), 1994; co-ed. College Green; wrote a doctorate on Beckett, TCD; issued Thirst (1997), a first poetry collection and winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, 1998; ed. Stream and Gliding Sun: A Wicklow Anthology (1998), and I Am the Crocus (1998), an anthology of poems by Wicklow children produced during his period as writer in residence; with Justin Quinn and others, fnd.-ed. Metre; issued Misery Hill (2000), poems; contrib. Letter from Ireland to sundry issues of PN Review, 1995-99;
reviews regularly for Irish Times, Books Ireland, London Review of Books, et al., and contribs. poetry to Times Literary Supplement; with Justin Quinn and Hugh Maxton, ed. Metre; also reviews in Books Ireland, Thumbscrew, Times Literary Supplement, P. N. Review, Honest Ulsterman, Metre, Verse, and Times Change; his partner is the poet Catríona O’Reilly; issued Mocker (2006), setting early-Irish figures (monks and mythic heroes) in a modern, North-of-England landscape; he is a senior lecturer in English at University of Hull.

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  • Thirst (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1997), 78pp. [reviewed in TLS, 3 July 1998];
  • Misery Hill (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2000), 95pp.;
  • Mocker (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2006), 74pp.
  • Lament for Ali Farka Touré (Presteigne: Rack Press 2008), 12pp.
  • A Nest on the Waves (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2010), 87pp.
  • ed. Stream and Gliding Sun: A Wicklow Anthology (Wicklow Co. Council 1998), 236pp.;
  • ed., I Am the Crocus: Poems by Children from Co. Wicklow (Wicklow Co. Council 1998), 105pp.;
  • ed., Poems of James Clarence Mangan (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2003), 160pp.
Contributions [incl.]
  • ‘Fanatic of Indifference: Emil Cioran, 1911-1995’, in Graph, 3.1 (Spring 1998), pp.19-22;
  • review essay on Alan Sokol & Jean Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures, in Irish Times (19 July 1998);
  • ‘That Blank Mouth: Secrecy, Shibboleths and Silence in Northern Ireland Poetry’, in Journal of Modern Literature, 25, 1 (Indiana UP: Fall 2001), pp.1-17 [available online at JSTOR online];
  • ‘Two Poems’ [“Ariadne”, “Macaw”], in Journal of Irish Studies (IASIL-Japan), XVII (2002), p.70.
  • ‘Closely glossed’, review of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, The Girl Who Married a Reindeer, in Times Literary Supplement (6 Sept. 2002), p.24 [attached].
  • ‘Louis MacNeice and Friends’, review of Letters of Louis MacNeice, ed. Jonathan Allison, in Times Literary Supplement (14 July 2010) [attached];
  • ‘The Tome of the Unknown Soldier’, in New Statesman (16 Aug. 2010), [available online; accessed 23.02.2011];
  • ‘The Quiet Power of the Humane Voice’, review of Terence Brown, The Literature of Ireland: Culture and Criticism, in The Irish Times (21 Aug. 2010) Weekend Review [attached.]

Anthologised in Joan McBreen, The Watchful Heart: A New Generation of Irish Poets - Poems & Essays (Moher: Salmonpoetry 1009) [q.pp.]

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Contributions to PN Review include—
  • Letter from Ireland [report], in PN Review, 104 (1995) [online]
  • on Modernism in Ireland [review], in PN Review, 106 (1995) [online]
  • Three Poems, in PN Review, 108 (1996) [online]
  • Letter from Ireland [report], in PN Review, 109 (1996) [online]
  • James Clarence Mangan [review], in PN Review, 115 (1997) [online]
  • Letter from Slovenia [report], in PN Review, 119 (1998) [online]
  • Letter from Ireland [report], PN Review, 122 (1998) [online]
  • Letter from Ireland [report], in PN Review, 125 (1999) [online]
  • ‘Am I Rambling? I Hope So’: Reading Peter Riley [article], in PN Review, 183 (2008) [online].
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Colin Graham, reviewing Misery Hill [with works of Peter Sirr and Rita Kelly], in The Irish Times (20 Jan. 2001): ‘David Wheatley’s Misery Hill has at its centre another Dublin flâneur […] James Clarence Mangan, whom Wheatley makes into a street-prowling predecessor’. Rita Ann Kelly ‘at her best when making the most of the anecdotal. She is disarmingly endearing and perceptive in recounting her experiences and friendships. Too at times too close to naivity and over-simplification, she does have an ear for a finely tuned line and an eye for detail which usually saves her. […] Rita Ann Kelly’s poetry is gently teasing and humanely open.’

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Rory Brennan, review of A Nest on the Waves, in Books Ireland (Feb. 2011): ‘The keynote of David Wheatley’s poetry is an edgy, touchy wariness. There are no hearts on sleeves in these poems, nothing taken at face value. If such things threaten, then coats are taken off, sleeves rolled up, grins wiped from faces. This sharp interrogation of the personal status quo and of the larger complacencies of the body politic is actually what makes these quirky, often cranky poems so enjoyable. Phrases like “reject”, “don’t buy it” pop up. Wheatley does not make your hair stand on end as in the A. E. Housman test but he does make you shiver. His wit is not merely dry, it is dry-ice. His settings can be in Donegal, Wicklow, raw English seaports and, most interestingly, the Sahara fringes of francophone Africa and the Touareg people. His pieces on their myths and customs recalled my own early journeys in such places and the self-possession and patient endurance of the people. There is a love of the desolate in Wheatley’s work, even of desolation. It is here -where there is nothing to lose - that he relaxes and writes fittingly spare incantations on the desert and on bare Irish landscapes such as Sally Gap. The truths he hunts in his poetry are not intended to redeem or reassure and are in consequence more striking fortheir lack of agenda, their air of take-it-or-leave-it. The delight these poems give derives from their being so well made. Wheatley casts a grey eye on life, on death - vagrant, drift by!’

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Macaw”: ‘Because the terrible hook-nosed scarlet macaw / will not leave me in peace I bring him tributes / of sliced fruit he scatters in raucous disdain, / whistle him tunes he knows far better than me, / begin sentences he interrupts me / to finish. Because he will as soon / have my eyes out as look at me through / the swivelling molluscs of his own two eyes / I cower and will myself small as the ripple / I make in his darting, aqueous humour / but in he dives after me into the black / pool of his stare and will not rest until / his maggot tongue has slimed the hand / he perches atop and he has trodden hand, / shoulder and head beneath his standstill march / and opened his wings over my head / to stand for a moment, the terrible wingspan / doing its clipped, furious worst as I cower / and cover my eyes in the black shadow / of every last scarlet, blue and green feather / and “help!” try to shout, dummy to his ventriloquist, / “help!”, and screeching he interrupts me / for the whole street to hear, “Help help help!”. (‘Two Poems’, in Journal of Irish Studies [IASIL-Japan], XVII, 2002, p.71.)

See also elegy for Denis O’Driscoll (i. m. D. O’D.) - under O’Driscoll, infra.

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Riptide”: ‘When the Hawk jet came down in the Humber, bedding / down with the dogfish and Roman remains, / you could point to your rush of foreboding / when it flew over, showing the strain // in the sub-concert pitch timbre of / its rip-roaring bark and ominous height / above our lately repointed roof / that would have passed briefly through its sights, // sights that would soon zero in on the river, / its sluggish affront to such predatory grace, / the foul-mouthed gulls well below radar / and the sudden allure of losing all trace // of its own radar trace in one last kill- /itself - in the parting tide for the Hawk / supreme in the air even now in its fall, / the pilot shot free like a champagne cork.’ (The Irish Times, 1 Feb. 2003, p.12.)

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The Gas Mask ”: ‘If I still had the use of my mind I’d call it insane. / When I got in the taxi he took me, as we drove home, / on a detour through a pet theory of his / that went something like: Cells of them, one big plot / already over here, anthrax, Saddam, our boys, only language he understands, / gas attack, one in the attic, my granddad’s, Geiger counter … / After which the next thing I heard was a grunt, or was it me slithering down the seat in the back? / then a honk rocking the cab with the noise as he turned and a pendulous, / rubber snout loomed at me from his wall-eyed elephant’s face: / he’d already put it on and I had to tell him, “Sorry, I can’t understand a word you’re saying”.’ (Quoted in Hugh McFadden, review of The Mocker, in Books Ireland, Nov. 2007, p.254, calling it ‘so good it has to be given in full’.)

“Trade winds”

Preface: On his way to discovering America, St Brendan passed the southern coast of Iceland, where he witnessed the volcano Mount Hekla erupting and believed he had discovered the entrance to hell. In actual history this may or may not have happened. According to another myth, Iceland was originally settled by Irish monks who were driven out by invading Norsemen. The evidence to support this is, I’m told, vague. The nineteenth-century Irish poet James Clarence Mangan never visited Iceland, but wrote a poem called “Iceland Moss Tea”, from which I have borrowed the phrase ‘a lava-flood in every vein.’ As countries go, Iceland seems more like a living creature than others, still roaring into volcanic action and shifting its shape as the mood takes it. So even though I too have never been to Iceland, and know only a collection of facts, half-facts and myths about it, it prowls my imagination like a strange wild animal I can track and pursue but never quite pin down. The poem I’ve written about it is a record of my fascinated pursuit.

  A passing St Brendan traded a sign of the cross
for a native’s airborne lump of burning slag
and pronounced Mount Hekla the gates of hell.
Fire is tree-foe, gleams-of-dread that other
fire called gold. Cut me, I bleed it, fire,
a lava-flood in every vein. Snorri
Sturluson traded a witch a rotten
flounder for the two extra letters of
the Icelandic alphabet, one symbolising
hero renown, the other a reindeer’s bladder
speared on a stick. I trade you an arctic fox
and a reindeer for a hollow great auk’s egg.
Buried three months before the midwinter feast
a rotten shark is not to be sniffed at, and goes
down well with a little Black Death spirit.
When offered these dainties at my table
you will know better than to refuse, though
a stranger took hospitality from Greppur
the Grim and killed him afterwards in his sleep.
Flosi and Skarphedrinn traded insults
at the Althing, but Gunnar and Njal
remained friends. And yet Gunnar died.
The chess players of Grímsey island
would fling themselves into the sea in ecstasies
of disgrace when defeated. Fischer and Spassky
traded pawns in Reykjavík, each rocking
back and forth in his chair ‘like dead men dancing’.
The sea, that knows all about dead men,
traded Iceland the island of Surtsey
for an eruption that lasted four years
before cooling to basalt, lichen and moss.
Now, thinking better of it, Surtsey’s tephra
covering is borne away on the breeze
and only the gates of hell themselves
reopened could make it return. Afloat
on the Blue Lagoon’s volcanic waters,
I feel the underworld’s hot breath on my ankles:
Won’t you have me back, it asks?
I would not trade it for anything on earth.
—contrib. to with other poems by Angela Leighton, Carol Rumens, Cliff Forshaw, to British-Icelandic maritime celebrations marked by the unveiling of a statues Steinnun Thorarinsdottir in 2011 [see online].

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The Crossbill


Berry aslant a mismatched bill.
Gulp and trill. Through crossed teeth
and echoing yours my woodnote spilled
               while you sang still.

Blood-red shed by the cross-bill scythe
where the blood-red breast rebuffed the gale,
a true note in each crooked mouth

carrying up and down the hill
on each far-transfported breath
(the crossbill's beak will never seal) -
               carrying still.

—Poem posted by David Wheatley on Facebook; image supplied by Neil Astley, idem. [20.08.2016].
Wheatley comments:

“The crossbill is the only bird indigenous to Britain and found in no other country. It is common in the hillside woodlands of Aberdeenshire, partially-chewed pinecones being a reliable indicator as to its presence. There is also a crossbill parrot, only half of whose name is strictly accurate. If for no other reason than my terrible crossed teeth, I feel a strong and instinctive kinship with this charming orange-red finch.” [Posted from Kemnay, Scotland, 20 Aug. 2016.]

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Les Trois Meteristes: Wheatley writes to The Irish Times (10 Sept. 1996) to correct the impression in an Irish Times feature (“Doing it Ourselves”) that he himself founded the College Green magazine, properly ascribed to Stephen Murray, and adds that his editorship of Metre is shared with Justin Quinn and Hugh Maxton [W. J. McCormack]. (Wheatley has an address at Wyndham Avenue, Bray, Co. Wicklow.)

Terry Wogan -

David Wheatley writes: “A little-known fact about Terry Wogan is the strange addiction he endured, in the last years of his life, to John Donne-themed spoonerisms. When he visited our village last, to play in the Kemnay-Kintore charity grudge match, there was some doubt as to which team he would actually play for. Are ye wanny uz, I asked him bluntly, remembering my Tom Leonard. ‘Ask not for whom the Tel bowls’, he snapped back, ‘he bowls for you.’” (Wheatley’s page on Facebook, 01.08.2016.)

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Brief appearances: One of several young poets featured in Katie Donovan, ‘You Could Do Poetry’ (The Irish Times, 17 Oct. 1995). Speaker in “Transitions” panel of “Moving On 2”, a conference at St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra (NUI) during 4–5 April 2003.

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College Greens: David Wheatley writes to The Irish Times (10 Sept. 1996) to correct the impression in an IT feature (“Doing it Ourselves”) that he himself founded the College Green magazine, properly ascribed to Stephen Murray, and adds that his editorship of Metre is shared with Justin Quinn and Hugh Maxton [W. J. McCormack]. (Wheatley has an address at Wyndham Avenue, Bray, Co. Wicklow.)

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