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Dennis O'Driscoll
(b. ???, 1954 - Present)

born in Thurles, County Tipperary. He was educated by the Christian Brothers and then UCD (Law). He entered civil service from 1970; Assistant Principal Officer, Dublin Customs office, Castle House S., Dublin 2. He reviewed poetry for Hibernia and The Crane Bag in the 1970s & 1980s with particular alertness to contemporary European writing. As a civil servant he later engaged in the task-force dealing with drugs and contraband during Ireland’s EU presidency. His poetry collections include: The Bottom Line (1994), a long poem of 550 lines on subject of business and bureaucracy; poetry reviews in The Irish Times and international journals; Weather Permitting (1999); Winner of Lannan Prize, 2000; O’Driscoll printed quotations on poetry in his ‘Pickings & Choosings’ column during his custodianship of Poetry Ireland Review.
Recently, he has become a much loved poet. His sense of humour and choice of subjects making him iconoclastic, if not cynical.
Kevin Kiely, reviewing O’Driscoll's, Exemplary Damages (Anvil), in Books Ireland (March 2003), writes facetiously: ‘God is dead, life is dead and O’Driscoll sounds as if he is not feeling very well himself either - “Our one true God has died [and we] are rewarded with chainstore loyalty points”.
My first impression of O'Driscoll reminded me of Seamus Heaney. Not that there is a similar style so much as a talent for presenting the view of life's moments usually ignored. I feel he gives his candid view of thoughts we have had but did not have the courage to say out loud. Of course, he holds up these offerings in full public display and with more style and grace than the rest of us will ever have the skill to match.
It's comforting to find his poems often prod the pompous and repellent aspects of modern life and business. As someone employed his whole life in government, who better to witness the absurdities of the office.

At the Seminar
by Dennis O’Driscoll

An electronic blip from house-martins as they pass
an open window at the conference centre; frantic birds,
on errands of mercy, transporting relief supplies to tricorn beaks.
We sneak a glance at our mobiles for text messages.

Crawling across the hotel lawn, sun puts mist in the shade:
a transparent morning now, our vision unhindered for miles.
A golfing party, armed with a quiver of clubs, aims
for the bull's-eye of the first hole; others, near a pool
blue as our EU flag with its water sparkle of stars, dry off:
shrink-wrapped in towels, they sink back into resort chairs.

For serious objective reasons, we are informed, our keynote
speaker is delayed; the Chairman's interpreted words
are relayed simultaneously through headphones:
In order to proceed to a profitable guidance for our work
which will be carried out with a feature of continuity and priority . . .

I see the lake basking in its own reflected glory, self-absorbed,
imagine turquoise dragonflies, wings wide as wedding hats,
fish with scarlet fins, water-walking insects.

I intervene. I associate myself with the previous speaker's views.
Discussions go on in all our languages at once, as we unscrew
still mineral water, bottled at some local beauty spot.
Certain administrations suffered cuts as they weren't entrusted
with new attributions likely to fill in the logistical gap
resulting from the inference of the frontierless economic area . . .

In two hours (less, if – with luck – that stupid clock has stopped)
our final workshops will convene in the break-out rooms.
Then it will be time to draw conclusions at the plenary,
to score evaluation forms, return to our respective floors
to dress down for the bus tour of the Old Town.

Now the rapporteurs start synopsising
the workshop findings on felt-tip flip-charts.
The Chairman is summing up: New challenges
overlook the world scenery in our global stance . . .

Lily pads strut across the lake like stepping stones;
fish risk an upward plunge; martins – plucking
sustenance from thick air – lunge at their mud nests.
Hold the world right there. Don't move a single thing.

From: Exemplary Damages
Anvil Press Poetry

Heat Wave
by Dennis O’Driscoll

Heat brought the day to its senses.
We are not used to such direct
expressions of feeling here
with our wishy-washy weather,
our dry intervals and showers,

our clearance spreading from the west;
rain and shine — ham actors —
mixing up their lines.
But there it was, the real thing,
an unstinting summer day,

not rationing its latitude for heat,
not squeezing out its precious metal
meanly between cracks in cloud.
Sunflower dishes tracked a solar path
across the radar screen of sky.

Apples swelled but still fell
short of breaking point.
The taut skin of black currants
would spurt open at a touch.
Ripening grain was hoarded

in the aprons of corn stalks.
A bee paused as if to dab its brow,
before lapping up more gold reserves.
Tar splashed the ankles of cars
as they negotiated honey-sticky routes.

Foxglove, ox-eyed daisy, vetch
jostled for attention on the verges.
Spiders hung flies out to dry.
A coiled snake — puff adder
or reticulated python — would

have thrived in that environment,
peaches supplanting gooseberries.
Were the river not reduced
to a trickle of juice within
reed-bearded banks, it might

have furnished cover for a crocodile
with sloped back patterned
like heat-soaked patio bricks.
A sudden low-lying cat dashed
between houses like a cheetah.

If that sun had made itself heard
it would have sounded like the inner
ferment of a cask of vintage wine,
the static on a trunk-call line
when someone phones out of the blue . . .

Birds retreated into silence, perched
deep inside leaf-camouflaged trees,
having nothing meaningful to add,
no dry-throated chalk-screeching
jungle note that would fit the bill.

A day that will spell summer always
for the child, too young to speak,
who romped outside among flower beds,
his mother's voice pressed thin and flat
as she summoned him languidly back

to the cool, flagstoned kitchen,
ice-cream blotches daubed
like sun block on his pudgy face.

Missing God by Dennis O'Driscoll
by Dennis O’Driscoll

His grace is no longer called for
Before meals: farmed fish multiply
without His intercession.
Bread production rises through
disease-resistant grains devised
scientifically to mitigate His faults.
Yet, though we rebelled against Miss Him
like adolescents, uplifted to see
an oppressive father banished -
a bearded hermit - to the desert,
we confess to missing Him at times.
Miss Him during the civil wedding
when, at the blossomy altar
of the registrar's desk, we wait in vain
to be fed a line containing words
like "everlasting" and "divine".
Miss Him when the TV scientist
explains the cosmos through equations,
leaving our planet to revolve on its axis
aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow.
Miss Him when the radio catches a snatch
of plainchant from some echoey priory;
when the gospel choir raises its
collective voice
to ask Shall We Gather at the River?
or the forces of the oratorio converge
on I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
and our contracted hearts lose a beat.
Miss Him when a choked voice
at the crematorium recites the poem
about fearing no more the heat of the sun.
Miss Him when we stand in judgement
on a lank Crucifixion in an art museum,
its stripe-like ribs testifying to rank.
Miss Him when the gamma-rays
recorded on the satellite graph
seem arranged into a celestial score,
the music of the spheres,
the Ave Verum Corpus of the observatory lab.
Miss Him when we stumble on the breast lump
for the first time and an involuntary prayer
escapes our lips; when a shadow crosses
our bodies on an x-ray screen; when we receive
a transfusion of foaming blood
sacrificed anonymously to save life.
Miss Him when we call out His name
spontaneously in awe or anger
as a woman in the birth ward bawls
her long-dead mother's name.
Miss Him when the linen-covered
dining table holds warm bread rolls,
shiny glasses of red wine.
Miss Him when a dove swoops
from the orange grove in a tourist village
just as the monastery bell begins to take its toll.
Miss Him when our journey leads us
under leaves of Gothic tracery, an arch
of overlapping branches that meet
like hands in Michelangelo's creation.
Miss Him when, trudging past a church,
we catch a residual blast of incense,
a perfume on par with the fresh-baked loaf
which Milosz compared to happiness.
Miss Him when our newly-decorated kitchen
comes in Shaker-style and we order
a matching set of Mother Ann Lee chairs.
Miss Him when we listen to the prophecy
of astronomers that the visible galaxies
will recede as the universe expands.
Miss Him the way an uncoupled glider
riding the evening thermals
misses its tug.
Miss Him, as the lovers shrugging
shoulders outside the cheap hotel
ponder what their next move should be.
Even feel nostalgic, odd days,
for His Second Coming,
like standing in the brick
dome of a dovecote
after the birds have flown.

For more Poetry Click the Poetry Index.


Thu, Jul 9, 2015
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Field Work
Seamus Heaney

After Bridget finished her recent article about After the Harvest (Putting out the Hare...) we were prompted to look for other references to Harvest Knots. We weren't too surprised to find a poem by Seamus Heaney from his book Field Work.

1000 Years of Irish Poetry: The Gaelic and Anglo Irish Poets from Pagan Times to the Present
by Kathleen Hoagland

Interested in Irish Poetry?Here's the easy way to collect them all (well, almost all, anyway).
Malachy McCourt says in his introduction, "With the republication of this book, the Irish recover under their roof of stars all the great poets and writers who have been falsely claimed by the saxon crown and its minions - even our reprobates."
Amazon states this is out of stock. They still have used copies for almost nothing (except shipping - chuckle). If you would like a new edition, it was available at Powell's. We can't promise it's still there. Click here for Powell's 1000 Years.
Click here for used at Amazon.


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