2000 Winner: Louis de Paor of Oughterard, Galway
Here on Archbishop John Ireland's campus halfaway round the globe from County Galway, we gather not for the customary March observances of things Irish--no parading or pub-crawling tonight--but for a feast--a feast both literal and literary. We gather in honor of the Irish poet Louis de Paor, the language of his originality, and particularly his seventh collection of poems Cork and Other Poems.
Published just last year, Cork and Other Poems is the third of de Paor's bilingual books after Sentences in Earth and Stone of 1996 and Speckled Weather of 1993. Each of those collections offers de Paor's own English--what he terms his "forgery"--of the original Gaelic poem. Each collection gives a welcome to English, and not a farewell to it.
Because each of his lines pronounces by turns de Paor's devotion to the familial, the intimate, and the sum of Irish heritance, each reader receives what such other poets in Modern Irish as Máire Mhac an tSaoi or the late Míchéal hAirtnéide have so generously passed on to those willing to listen. De Paor's poem "Gaeilgeoirí" raised that question early on:
Cad leis go rabhamar ag súil?
Go mbeadh tincéiri chun lóin
in Áras an Uachtaráin?
Go n-éistfi linn?
+ + +
What did we expect?
That tinkers could drop in
for a spot of lunch
at Áras an Uachtaráin?
That people would actually listen to us?
The answer, this night, is a plain "Yes." Remarkably, de Paor's Irish and his English forgeries have come to us in St. Paul and London--or Boston and even Dublin--all the way from Australia. Speckled Weather / Aimsir Bhreicneach came first, marking off from the outside de Paor's maturity in 1993. This is hardly an accident. It comes, of course, from an essential Irish circumstance--the necessity to emigrate. Goban Cre is Cloch / Sentences of Earth and Stone voices that diasporic heritage in a long poem titled "Oileán na Marbh" or "The Island of the Dead." Whether in English or Irish, those lines keep all of de Paor's later poems mindful of the penitential durance of emigration, and not solely because Australia served as a British penal colony for decades. Visiting the plots of those prisoners, de Paor declares:
Better to wear a
cowl to hide the shame of
man made nothing, to cover
+ + +
Ba chuíúla dar liom
cochall a chaitheamh
gan uirísleacht an duine...
The hallmark qualities of Speckled Weather and Sentences of Earth and Stone underscore the real presence of every line in Cork and Other Poems.
De Paor's title reminds us that he received the Sean O Riordain prize of the 1988 and then the 1992 Oireachtas. De Paor was born in Cork and educated there. His study of the Galway writer Máirtín Uí Cadhain and his anthology Leabhar Sheain Ui Thuma pay tribute to the poet and scholar Seán Ó Tuama. Like the poets Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill or Thomas McCarthy, de Paor comes of a remarkable generation tutored by Seán Lucy, John Montague, and Ó Tuama himself at University College, Cork.
In Cork and Other Poems, local and national events speak bitterly and passionately. Early and Bardic lines pose their sweet and sour against our contemporary lives. Most importantly, though, de Paor keeps to simple freedom with metaphor that suddenly and rewardingly complicate a living moment. That is why the father-and-son scene, a family scene, of "Heredity/ Oidhreacht" surprises us in its closure.
...ta fiacail ar sceabha
i ndrad mo mhic
gleas chomh hard
le niamh an phearla
ar a ghaire neamhfhoirfe
+ + +
..there's a tooth askew
in my son's mouth,
bright as a pearl
in his perfectly crooked smile.
One of the traditional tasks of the poet's language is to skew our perceptions and expectations, to make our straight ways of understanding crooked, to set our ordinary feelings ar sceabha.
Whether forgeries in English or playfully forged in Irish, Louis de Paor's poems renew the powers of Irish to set askew the presumptions and usual preferences of English as we find it in Ireland and Britain, in the Americas, in Australia.
It is in recognition of those powers that we celebrate the accomplishment of Louis de Paor by awarding him the fourth Lawrence M. O'Shaughnessy Prize for Poetry.