Born to Irish parents and raised in Birmingham, England, Joseph Horgan has lived in Cork, Ireland, since 1999. He is a widely published, award winning poet whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals in Ireland, the UK, Europe and the United States. He has won he Patrick Kavanagh Award has been short-listed for a Hennessy Award and has been the recipient of an Arts Council bursary. His work has been regularly broadcast on television and radio and he writes a weekly column for the Irish Post
Horgan’s work is much concerned with the experiences of so-called ordinary people, with the consequences of migration, with the notions of origin and home. In often coruscating detail Horgan challenges us to witness and engage with lives we all too often choose not to see. In both his prose and poetry Horgan operates as a custodian of those who live lives far away from the spotlight, of the everyday heroism of so-called ordinary lives. We see this, for instance, in the beautiful poem ‘Asbestos Dreams’:
each morning I awoke as a white ghost,
the lullaby of the furnace silent.
I fed the fire with rags
and coal that was dug
by other sweating men.
Through the hours of night
I worked at chemical speed
so that later, I could steal sleep.
Curled against the heat,
a snow of ash falling silently on me,
toxic parachutes floating.
Each night I died,
each morning I wore a shroud
of the finest asbestos cloth.
Horgan’s work is haunted by migration and displacement, by how their consequences have echoed throughout generations of Irish history. In poems that are accessible but inspired, colloquial but layered with meaning; Horgan excels at providing POV shots from this often overlooked emigrant class:
like a pigeon,
like a tumbler
to shit - smeared pigeon cages
and the imaginary city
where backyards are rooftops
and in the back of fag ash taxis
dulled and bruised, knowing too much,
there is enough
out and in, in and out of light, to realise,
like a tumbler, like a pigeon,
the mind goes home.
In this poem, entitled ‘A note to Billy Matthews’, Horgan suggests that all migrants feel not only somehow caged but also tormented by the desire for flight from the cities that enmesh them, from the adopted home sthat simultaneously offer them freedom and captivity. Each of Horgan’s collections centres on such nomadic literary quests, on the search for ‘home’ and for our place in the world.
A prolific collaborator Horgan relishes the opportunity to work with artists across a range of media. He has notably collaborated with painter Brian Whelan, who produced illustrations for each of the poems in An Unscheduled Life. This collection’s straightforward titles belie the respect, munificence and flair with which its subjects are treated by both Horgan and Whelan. These are dense and sensory pieces, works that seem to reads us as much as we read them,
In the deeply poignant poem ‘The immigrant’s self-portrait’ the reader is treated another ‘point of view shot’ out from Horgan’s social conscience, as he forces us to acknowledge those who so often blur into the streetscape:
the flotsam and the jetsam,
this country reared
of being born
in that cottage,
on that lane,
they never leave,
this port or that
the point of departure,
this city and that,
flotsam and jetsam
Horgan’s deep connection to the subjects he writes about place him among the most important of contemporary Irish poets. He functions as the eyes of the verlooked and his poems are anthemic tributes even in their apparent reticence. These are poems for the people not the flag and they sing from the page, to lodge deep in the conscience and the consciousness.
Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea, Doghouse Books, Tralee, 2008
An Unscheduled Life, Agenda Editions, East Sussex, 2012 (with Brian Whelan)
The Year I Loved England, Pighog, Brighton, 2014 (with Antony Owen)
The Song at Your Backdoor, Collins Press, Cork, 2010
Review by David Cooke of An Unscheduled Life
Three poems by Horgan at Days of Roses
Selection of articles by Horgan at Irish Left Review