Ciaran O’Driscoll
(Ireland, 1943)   
Ciaran O’Driscoll

Ciaran O’Driscoll was born in Co. Kilkenny and lives in Limerick. He has published eight books of poetry including Moving On, Still There: New and Selected Poems (Dedalus Press, 2001) and more recently Surreal Man, a chapbook of 21 poems (Pighog, 2006), and Vecchie Donne di Magione, a dual-language edition of poems in an Italian setting (Volumnia Editrice, 2006). In 2001, Liverpool University Press published his childhood memoir, A Runner Among Falling Leaves. He has won a number of awards for his work, among them the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. In 2007, he was elected to Aosdána.

O’Driscoll’s first writings were all inspired by his admiration for classical Modernists such as Eliot and St. John Perse. He has made good use of the traditional Modernist armoury – “the playing with repetition, for instance, the testing of pure emotion against irony, the liking for free verse and its expansiveness. Having said that,” he notes, “it is also true that if I write a free verse poem, I always tend to try something in stricter form after, by way of developing an inclusive repertoire.”

But as he developed into a person of social and political awareness he found the language of Modernism inadequate for his purposes. O’Driscoll has written: “Having absorbed so much of the purity of Modernism’s attitude, I found it difficult and a challenge to write poems that made political or social statements, and the obliqueness that ensued often resulted in readers failing to see anything political or social in a poem that I thought had serious, though undercurrent, designs on the world and its wrongs. The only release from this dilemma was anger: when it reached a certain pitch, rage broke through the constraints and actually found imagination in another form – the satirical – waiting to help on the other side. This, I believe, is the case with poems such as ‘A Gift for the President’, ‘Great Auks’ (I wrote the first draft in a fit of silent apoplexy, on a train) and ‘Please Hold’.”

It could be said that just as some writers use humour as an antidote to despair Ciaran O’Driscoll uses humour to make expressions of anger more palatable. But naturally he has produced poems from other sources too:

“ ‘Anatomy of the Copper Man’, however, is different in that it didn’t originate in anger but in a compulsion of a psychological and personal nature; more a case of finding an ‘objective correlative’ for something obscure and intimate – though having said that, it is also possible to see a ‘state of the nation’ aspect to the poem (it was written at the height of the 1980s Troubles).

“ ‘Magritte’ is a poetic challenge I set myself, having watched a video of his work and life: an attempt to capture, in a short space of words, the feeling I got from watching it.

“ ‘Lollipop Lady’ brings my journey in poetry up to date, in that I am now writing an occasional poem bearing in mind the Open Mic, which has very different values from the Modernists. I have written a few ‘crowd pleasers’, as a friend of mine somewhat disparagingly put it, and ‘Lollipop Lady’ won the Slam at Cuisle, Limerick City’s Poetry Festival, in 2005. Writing this kind of poem, however, is a way of addressing the gulf between poetry and audience; and crowd pleasers though they may be, I apply poetic craft in writing them. ‘Lollipop Lady’ is an ode to a humane institution, a tongue-in-cheek love poem, and something of a send-up of rock-song jargon.”

© Patrick Cotter

Select Bibliography

Moving On, Still There: New and Selected Poems, Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2001
Surreal Man, Pighog, Brighton, 2006

A Runner Among Falling Leaves, Liverpool University Press, 2001


O’Driscoll's first book complete in pdf format for free download

Dedalus Press page

Review of O’Driscoll's memoir

‘My Holiday Home in Iraq’, a new poem


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