Brendan Kennelly, Irish poet and novelist, is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on April 17, 1936. Now retired from teaching, he serves as Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin until 2005. Since his retirement he has been titled “Professor Emeritus” by Trinity College.
Kennelly is educated at the inter-denominational St. Ita’s College, Tarbert, County Kerry, and at Trinity College, Dublin where he edits the student literary magazine Icarus. He graduates from Trinity and writes his PhD thesis there. He also studies at Leeds University. Brendan is married for 18 years to Margaret (Peggy) O’Brien, a colleague in the English Department at Trinity College. They live together in Sandymount, Dublin, with daughter Doodle for 12 years before separating. Brendan and Peggy remain friends and Peggy is now remarried. Peggy is a published poet and Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Kennelly’s poetry can be scabrous, down-to-earth and colloquial. He avoids intellectual pretension and literary posturing, and his attitude to poetic language can be summed up in the title of one of his epic poems, “Poetry my Arse.” A 400-page long epic poem, “The Book of Judas”, published in 1991, tops the Irish best-seller list.
A prolific and fluent writer, he has more than twenty books of poetry to his credit, including My Dark Fathers (1964), Collection One: Getting Up Early (1966), Good Souls to Survive (1967), Dream of a Black Fox (1968), Love Cry (1972), The Voices (1973), Shelley in Dublin (1974), A Kind of Trust (1975), Islandman (1977), A Small Light (1979) and The House That Jack Didn’t Build (1982).
Kennelly has edited several other anthologies, including “Between Innocence and Peace: Favourite Poems of Ireland” (1993), “Ireland’s Women: Writings Past and Present, with Katie Donovan and A. Norman Jeffares” (1994), and “Dublines,” with Katie Donovan (1995).
Kennelly is an Irish language speaker, and has translated Irish poems in “A Drinking Cup” (1970) and “Mary” (Dublin 1987). A selection of his collected translations is published as “Love of Ireland: Poems from the Irish” (1989).
Language is important in Kennelly’s work – in particular the vernacular of the small and isolated communities in North Kerry where he grew up, and of the Dublin streets and pubs where he becomes both roamer and raconteur for many years. Kennelly’s language is also grounded in the Irish-language poetic tradition, oral and written, which can be both satirical and salacious in its approach to human follies.
Regarding the oral tradition, Kennelly is a great reciter of verse with tremendous command and the rare ability to recall extended poems by memory, both his own work and others, and recite them on call verbatim.
Kennelly has commented on his own use of language: “Poetry is an attempt to cut through the effects of deadening familiarity and repeated, mechanical usage in order to unleash that profound vitality, to reveal that inner sparkle. In the beginning was the Word. In the end will be the Word…language is a human miracle always in danger of drowning in a sea of familiarity.”