1998 Winner: John F. Deane of Dublin

Citation read at the presentation of the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry to John F. Deane on April 30, 1998 at University of St. Thomas.

We gather this spring evening to offer praise and thanks for the writing of John F. Deane and, particularly, to honor the achievement of Christ, with Urban Fox – the eighth of his ten collections since 1977.

Including a translation of the Anglo-Saxon “Dream of the Rood” and an eleven-part American pilgrimage, those thirty-eight poems in Christ, with Urban Fox test in a rich variety of forms the ordinariness of our lives – whether we live in Dublin or Belfast, Paris or Prague, Boston or Athens, Georgia.

The assaying of Deane’s lines reveals a classically Christian imagination that can renew in our world images of the Passion. More often than mere skill allows, the same lines attain that “inscape” so feared and desired by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

And it is fearless dedication to the arts of the poem, the auras of the book, the promises of publishing that characterize John Deane’s life in the world. He proposed that dedication as a sort of credo in an essay and a poem, both titled “In Dedication.” The essay concludes: “Our age is hungering for truth, honesty, concentration, integrity. For dedication.”The close of the poem, though, opens with this view:

Curlews scatter now on a winter field, their calls

small alleluias of survival….

In every collection, from High Sacrifice of 1981 through The Stylized City a decade later, Deane’s working of a great variety of line and genre serves his readers with a “small alleluia.”

Much weighs against this, for Deane’s writing spans the two decades past. These, we know, were two decades of great change and trial in Ireland – from the Hunger Strikes to the latest accord; and in Europe – from Solidarity to the advent of the Euro. Tellingly, it is to Europe more than America or Britain that Deane has looked for the sustaining model of a life dedicated to Ireland’s literatures.

The now prospering organization known as Poetry Ireland, and its elegant journal, were founded in 1978 and nurtured by John F. Deane. Likewise, Deane continues with Dedalus Press, one of the heirs of the Dolmen Press tradition begin by Liam Miller. Like Liam Killer, Deane both conserves a tradition – the writing of Thomas Kinsella and Dennis Devlin, to take two examples – and fosters the new, as the entries in any Dedalus catalog will show.

Deane has, of course, been translated. A selection titled L’ombre du photographe appeared in 1996. More often he has been the translator, rendering into English the Romanian of Sorescu, the Swedish of Transtromer, the French of Rancourt. And since 1996 he has commuted to Luxembourg, where he serves as general secretary of the European Academy of Poetry.

Though Deane has lately published stories and novels, it is to the poems that his readers must return. It is to their patient but struggling apperception of the createdness of Irish life that Deane returns his readers – to every drama of foxy presence in the new suburb or in each trailing excursion to an Atlantic headland.

In Christ, with Urban Fox, a poem of French extraction suggests the necessity that yields the reward of Deane’s poetry: “I was born /on an island off an island off an island/ off the western limits of Europe….”  That pedigree of isolation provides us with the reward of Deane’s dedication – a necessary, undistracted concentration on the grit of presence, the grain of our afflictions, and finally a yielding to the choir of “small alleluias.”

For more than two decades John F. Deane has helped to lead Irish writing to its present prominence in our narrowing world by feeling and saying anew the durable promises of Ireland’s Christianness.

For that unsettling assurance, for the constant care of his difficult art, for the enterprise of his dedication, we now share the privilege of thanking John F. Deane with the second Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry given by the University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies.