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The Poetics of Locality in the Work of Michael Coady

La poétique de la localité dans l’œuvre de Michael Coady
Catriona Clutterbuck
p. 61-80

Résumés

L’œuvre de Michael Coady est abordée en tant que témoignage vécu du principe de Patrick Kavanagh selon lequel le local est notre porte d’entrée vers le sens et l’universel. Plusieurs thématiques sont étudiées, telles que la relation entre la transcendance et le quotidien chez Coady ; le rôle de l’oralité et de la créativité partagée dans sa poétique, caractérisée par l’utilisation de genres hybrides et du multimédia ; le défi lancé par Coady aux approches binaires dans le débat culturel irlandais, à travers son opposition au provincialisme patriarcal ; et son intérêt pour les destins ouverts. Il s’agit d’explorer la poétique de Coady dans l’(extra)ordinaire local, en contextualisant cette priorité esthétique par rapport à la politique littéraire qui structure sa réception.

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Introduction: Coady’s ideal of transcendence in the everyday here-and-now

  • 1 Quotations from Michael Coady’s poetry are included by kind permission of the author and The Galler (...)
  • 2 Michael Coady, “The Star”, in One Another, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2003, p. 133.
  • 3 Michael Coady, “Watching ‘The Dead’ in the Living Room”, in All Souls, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press (...)
  • 4 Michael Coady, “The Use of Memory”, in All Souls, p. 89.
  • 5 Michael Coady, Two for a Woman, Three for a Man, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 1980.
  • 6 Michael Coady, Oven Lane and Other Poems [1987], revised edition, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 201 (...)
  • 7 Michael Coady, Going by Water, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2009.
  • 8 Michael Coady, Given Light, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2017.
  • 9 Michael Coady, Full Tide: A Miscellany, Nenagh, Relay Books, 1999.

1Michael Coady has produced a body of writing1 which takes both its ethical and its aesthetic watermark from its author’s self-location in the tidal river town of Carrick-on-Suir in south County Tipperary – that historical nexus point of trade and navigation in Ireland’s South-East where Coady was born in 1939 and in which he has lived and worked almost all his life. Comprehending that “all creation needs particular space to happen in”,2 Coady’s foundational understanding that the world closest to hand offers the basis of “all the party, / all the story”3 has led him to choose Carrick-on-Suir as his “personal cosmos, [his] given commonwealth of imagination”.4 Now in his mid-eighties, Michael Coady’s poetry has been published for the past four and a half decades by Ireland’s most established poetry publishing house, The Gallery Press, and includes six main collections: Two for a Woman, Three for a Man (1980),5 Oven Lane (1987),6 All Souls (1997), One Another (2003), Going by Water (2009)7 and Given Light (2017).8 He has also compiled a selection of occasional essays and other prose pieces, titled Full Tide: A Miscellany (1999).9

  • 10 Michael Coady, “A Blue Gate in Lough Street”, in Oven Lane…, p. 24.
  • 11 Roz Cowman, “The Seed in the Dark”, review of Oven Lane, by Michael Coady, Riverine, no. 3, 1989, p (...)
  • 12 Michael Coady, “Are You a Library?”, in Given Light, p. 25.

2Like that of Seamus Heaney, who shares his birth year, Coady’s body of work “danc[es] / between earth and air”10 – between the physical and the metaphysical and between all of history and the instant – as its concrete details shimmer out of their situatedness and take on a quality of transcendence which is rooted in the here and now. Coady’s gift as poet has been identified as “this ability to hold the general and the particular in one vision”.11 In Coady’s output, long parabolas of memory and association reveal themselves in the many moments when blockages between people, times, activities, places and texts fall away, and intersecting arcs of human experience become visible. By this means, Coady’s work conjures redemption as it challenges rigid narratives of identity and nation: in his hands, society’s carefully-erected boundaries between known worlds and other worlds, between states of innocence and experience, between the strong and the weak, and between what is humanly tolerable and what is not, begin to dissolve. In each successive collection, Coady’s own writing offers what he celebrates Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65 for doing – it “sign[s] off with [a] prophetic lifeline to the future”.12 The present essay introduces Michael Coady’s body of work as one criss-crossed with such lifelines.

  • 13 Michael Coady, “A Local Habitation”, The Open Mind Guest Lecture, RTÉ Radio 1, produced by John Qui (...)
  • 14 Fred Johnston, “In: Verse”, review of Santiago Sketches, by David McLoughlin, Migrant Shores: Irish (...)
  • 15 Daniel Tobin, “The Parish and Lost America: The Witness of Michael Coady’s All Souls”, in Awake in (...)

3In his key millennial lecture, “A Local Habitation”, Michael Coady quotes Robert Penn Warren’s maxim, “A poem is not a thing we see, but a light by which we may see”.13 Accordingly, the title of Coady’s most recent collection, Given Light, points to the essence of this poet’s aesthetic. Here, the word “given” operates at once as an adjective qualifying the noun “light” so as to denote its everyday, expected status, and functions as a verb, whereby “given” connotes light as a boon of illumination beyond the norm. In Coady, to be given light is to know our own transubstantiation in the delimited here and now – his work facilitating the gift of seeing anew whereby life’s elements of uplift and radiance are integral to, and hidden within, quotidian daily existence. Fred Johnston describes “one of the great virtues of Coady’s poetry [as] this ‘amplifying’ of ordinary histories, stories, lives, into something that […] sings”.14 As Daniel Tobin likewise notes, Coady discerns “the call of the infinite in the fraction of time and space inhabited by the attentive life”.15 His larger body of work teaches the lesson explicitly expressed in “The Star”:

  • 16 Michael Coady, “The Star”, p. 133.

[…] don’t look straight on for revelation, since it’s mostly dressed in the mundane, if there at all. Always a sideways glimpse in place and time, dimly discerned in the half-light and the maze of mutability.16

  • 17 Michael Coady, “Catch of the Day at the River Suir Café”, in Given Light, p. 29.
  • 18 Michael Coady, “June Impromptu”, in Going by Water, p. 21.
  • 19 Ibid.
  • 20 Michael Coady, “The Joie de Vivre of Annick and Pierre”, in Going by Water, p. 77.
  • 21 Michael Coady, “An Updated History of Sexual Intercourse”, in One Another, p. 61.

4Coady’s poetry is full of such intimations of immortality discovered in the light of the ordinary. “Catch of the Day at the River Suir Café”, for example, records the poet’s boat trip upriver from Carrick-on-Suir to Clonmel to the eponymous café to read from his then-latest poetry book – itself titled Going by Water.17 In journey and poem alike, the catch of the day is the day itself as a form of bounty that offers itself to be seized both in the immediate moment and in joyous memory. Likewise, “June Impromptu” celebrates its speaker’s pleasure in a river journey through his home town during which a symphony of random circumstances integrates to “a local ensemble / of sky and valley, river, cot and paddle / making up a rhapsody of now”.18 In this poem, the present moment’s rich visual domain is complemented by its aural extension, “extemporized in riffs from dogs and blackbirds, / children’s shouts and laughter from the bridge”, while “photosynthesis / fine-tunes the world, unheard, in every leaf”. In this poem’s rich description of the music of what happens, the natural process of life renewing itself proceeds “Under all, or over” everything that the poet registers.19 For Coady, death cannot break this pattern. In “The Joie de Vivre of Annick and Pierre”, he celebrates the life-force of an unknown couple buried in Montparnasse cemetery as extended through their photo on the grave. Like that street photo taken when they were young as both were about to eat an ice-cream, “radiant and brave, / and just about to taste”, his own work is engaged in “still showing all the living and the dead / how to be human in this world”20 – Coady celebrating innumerable such heroes of “the carnal war / with time that’s always lost / but never conceded”.21

Orality, community and shared creativity in Coady

  • 22 Charles Fanning, review of Going by Water, by Michael Coady, New Hibernia Review, vol. 14, no. 4, 2 (...)
  • 23 Michael Coady, “Aisling”, in Given Light, p. 19.
  • 24 Gerald Dawe, “Notices of Burden”, review of Talk, Talk, by Peter Sirr, and Oven Lane, by Michael Co (...)

5Michael Coady is a master of voice-throwing in which the speakers of many of his prose and poetry pieces occupy the subject-positions of a wide cast of local Carrick-on-Suir characters, in which category this poet gradually includes himself more as celebrant-participant than as observer. Charles Fanning rightly praises Coady’s “gift for rendering conversation”.22 Understanding that “The timbre of a voice / may say more than it says”,23 Coady exercises great care to tread a fine line between understatement and overstatement in his exposition of this material, so as to enable interconnecting layers of meaning to enter dialogue in the text’s discursive space. In that space, the overlapping perspectives of speaker, personae, other animate and inanimate phenomena, reader and writer productively jostle: as Gerald Dawe astutely notes, “Coady gains in the wider emotional energy of a community life his poems give a voice to, without rhetorical connivance”.24

  • 25 Michael Coady, “Palestrina and Amigo Holden of the Hill”, in Given Light, p. 57.
  • 26 Ibid., p. 58.
  • 27 Michael Coady, “The Via Roma”, in One Another, p. 39.

6A foundational principle which helps this Tipperary poet to walk that tightrope is his understanding that the privileges of the artist arise from his or her material, rather than the other way around – a principle which aligns his work with that of other major Irish poets, including Louis MacNeice and Eavan Boland who, similarly to Coady, attend to the importance of the situated moment in time. Affirming as it does his option for the local, this precept underpins Coady’s resistance to fixed ideas of culture clash between high and low. For example, the prose piece “Palestrina and Amigo Holden of the Hill” juxtaposes one of the world’s greatest works of choral music with locally-performed popular song. The renowned music of Palestrina is described on first encounter as “a sound like nothing you’d ever heard or known about before until then. A sense of glory dawning; a lifting off the earth”.25 As such, it occupies the speaker’s imagination, but so too do the country-music style songs and hymns sung by the local hairdresser at the funeral of one of his old classmates. Crucially, for Coady, both types of music in the contexts of their performance offer “an unshaken intuition of something indefinable beyond the veil”26 – the two forms being united at source in answering human need for solace and meaning in our attempt to outface suffering and death. Like the Carrick man singing for his terminally-ill friend in hospital in his prose piece “The Via Roma”, Coady celebrates all such occasions where “I gave the whole song and I didn’t hold anything back in the voice”.27

7Unsurprisingly then, a central strategy of Coady’s carnal war with time is his focus on the unofficial histories and historiographies contained in storytelling and communal memory – modes which temporarily suspend time and are both marginal and resistant to official public discourse. Among these historiographies, Coady particularly highlights the power of oral forms as constituted by vivid, memorable, impromptu saying, proposing that:

we should especially attend

  • 28 Michael Coady, “The Holes in History”, in One Another, p. 22.

the still unwritten moment
flaring out and
leaping from the tongue28

8In his 1997-collected sequence “Things They Say (Besides Their Prayers)”, Coady celebrates the subversive power of demotic speech to reaffirm human creativity – such power being realised in the context of our submission to mortality within the flux of history. This sequence includes the slyly innocuous three-line ‘found’ poem, “Meteor Shower”, which describes local reaction to the TV live broadcasting of a unique astronomical phenomenon, as follows:

  • 29 Michael Coady, “Meteor Shower”, in All Souls, p. 65.

    Wouldn’t you think
      they could have it
a bit earlier in the night?29

Here, the speaker’s blinkered viewpoint in an age of pre-packaged consumption and convenience viewing, comically clashes with the irreducible, universal perspective of the event itself, in which the meteor shower alters neither its course nor its timing. However, for Coady, this is no real conflict, rather – even while gently mocking such overweaning claims to shift celestial pattern – he affirms the local speaker’s claiming of a right to a say in the matter by virtue of their human frailty. In other words, this affectionate poem dramatises a crucial space between powerlessness and omnipotence, the subjective and the objective, holding open the middle ground between these polarities by contextualising man’s illusory fiction of control as a necessary stage in a child’s self-formation as a true agent in history. Elsewhere, Coady takes delight in verbal error, exploiting the comic gap between the literal and figurative in a poem like “Freeze-Frame”. Here, an Irish-American, who arrives into a bar near Carrick anxious to populate his family tree, concretises the exile’s desire to link the living and the dead:

  • 30 Michael Coady, “Freeze-Frame”, in Given Light, p. 39.

Would any of the Ryans
buried in Cill an Easpaig
please stand up
to be counted?30

– whereupon (with understandable tentativeness) members of the extended Ryan family get to their feet in various parts of the pub.

9Coady’s attention to the power of oral forms is quintessentially seen in his early poem “Naming Names”, which lists thirty-one local nicknames, allowing the names themselves to stand without comment. These are arranged on the page in two columns whereby a set of left-aligned names alternates with a set of indented names as the poem proceeds, thus visually generating the effect of call-and-response – precisely apt for this material:

  • 31 Michael Coady, “Naming Names”, in Oven Lane…, p. 31.

Dead Bell
Lousy Town
Black Ink
Foot of Ebb
                   Flash Colours
                   Make it the Two
                   Long Distance
                   Cursed Good-Lookin’ […]31

  • 32 Michael Coady, interview by Catriona Clutterbuck, 26 June 1990, Carrick-on-Suir (unpublished).
  • 33 Coady recalls local response to this poem in Carrick-on-Suir as follows: “Once it was published […] (...)

The text works by reminding us of the collective, spoken-word, materially-situated origins of verse: in Coady’s words, “Nicknames are a kind of oral communal poetry – a verbal consensus”.32 Such harmony is potent and provisional: shared nicknames are unapologetically local in their claiming of a meaning that is available for collapse and regeneration, but because of that flexibility, this universal form remains at once dynamic and stable enough to serve the moment of communal formation – qualities which extend to this poem.33

  • 34 Michael Coady, “48 Lines to the People of Carrick Concerning Rights and River-Lanes”, Bellman Broad (...)
  • 35 Michael Coady, “Michael Coady on Carrick-on-Suir”, in This Place Speaks to Me: An Anthology of Peop (...)

10Likewise, more generally, Coady’s work prioritises community as something best sustained by freely interconnecting human relationships in place and time – a commitment demonstrated, for example, in his uncollected broadsheet publication, “48 Lines to the People of Carrick Concerning Rights and River-Lanes”,34 distributed locally in 1990 with the purpose of overturning Town Council plans to close many points of access between Carrick’s main street and the river quays – in one of which laneways “my grandfather was born and an epic family story began”,35 and for which reverberant location this writer’s second collection is named.

Hybrid genre and multi-media in Coady’s poetics

  • 36 Eamonn Wall, “The Use of Memory: Michael Coady’s All Souls”, in Writing Modern Ireland, Catherine E (...)
  • 37 Ciaran Carson, “The Basket Weaver’s Hands”, review of All Souls, by Michael Coady, Poetry Ireland R (...)
  • 38 Daniel Tobin, “The Parish and Lost America…”, p. 201.
  • 39 Ibid., p. 199.
  • 40 Michael Coady, “A Local Habitation”. Coady’s long friendship with County Clare traditional Irish mu (...)
  • 41 Eamonn Wall, “The Use of Memory…”, p. 124.
  • 42 Michael Coady, “The Friction of Feet in Time”, in One Another, p. 51-52.
  • 43 Ibid., p. 52.

11Coady’s poetics serve his ideal of dynamic community along with its extension into his larger vision of co-creative interdependence between human and natural life, past and present, secular and sacred, and between the personal and the political. Since his third collection, All Souls (1997), he has experimented with genre in writing which juxtaposes, interweaves and fruitfully blurs the boundaries between traditional lyric poetry, prose poetry, memoir, social history, flash-fiction, translation, and contemporary folklore – a format variously described as collage,36 compendium37 and miscellany.38 Tobin describes Coady’s “bricolage structure of orchestration” of material in these “hybrid” collections as serving this poet’s purpose of “illuminat[ing] the dynamic nature of the moment, the transitory’s transit from the depths of the past”.39 Coady’s use of multi-media also serves this end – the arts of music and photography being brought to bear in a particular way in his work. As Coady remarks: “Music – of diverse kinds – has been and remains an indispensable sustenance in my life”.40 Wall, for example, notes the significance to Coady’s poetic structure of Irish traditional music’s reliance on alteration within repetition and jazz music’s “even more radical mode of experimentation and collage”.41 Coady’s poem “The Friction of Feet in Time”42 testifies to the power of music in a particular way. The poet sets out to recreate the atmosphere of long-ago dancehall nights in rural Ireland where he and his family used to play in the dance-band employed for the evening. Structured around the use of a repeated verbal riff, “Once upon” (thus drawing upon the compelling reserves of the fairy-tale genre), the text replicates the effects of the music and formal dance steps it commemorates, as well as recreating the sense of temporal zooming in and out with which it is directly concerned. The poem more broadly suggests power of incorporating the essence of human history in this remembered scene,43 as it moves softly, mesmerically, to its conclusion:

  • 44 Michael Coady, “A Local Habitation”.

Here we find use of simple, repeated words, carefully arranged on the page. Mobilising the auditory possibilities of alliteration, assonance and consonance as generated by the sequence of soft-digraph phonemes in these lines, in combination with the visual resources of typography including italics, indentation, non-standard word-spacing and decreasing font size, the rhythm of the foxtrot or quickstep is enacted. The poem as a whole realises a performative embodiment of dance as dreamscape, and as such it strikingly reflects Coady’s broader aesthetic priorities: “What distinguishes poetry from the other verbal arts for me derives from poetry’s original oral / aural qualities of enchantment”.44 Here, the poem’s own music holds and frames the universal pattern of human desire with which this text is concerned – a desire which drives

the shuffling unanimity
of feet in time

  • 45 Michael Coady, “The Friction of Feet in Time”, p. 52.

like a grounded being
moving underneath the music
in a relentless drag and slide –45

  • 46 Michael Coady, One Another, p. 58.

Coady alerts us to the manner in which the dancers align themselves with vital life patterns, which include dream and loss, sadness and joy. Six pages further on in the book, the poet reproduces a photographic negative of his uncle, mother and other family members in that same brass band, appending to the image a two-line epigraph in which these ghostly human figures – disembodied at the moment they are captured for the record – are identified as “World-losers and world-forsakers / On whom the pale moon gleams”.46

  • 47 Michael Coady, Given Light, p. 50.
  • 48 Michael Coady, “News from the Sky”, in Given Light, p. 49.
  • 49 Michael Coady, Given Light, p. 51.
  • 50 Michael Coady, “Litanies and Light”, in Given Light, p. 52, 53.

12Coady’s own photography is mobilised to highlight his larger themes through its positioning in his published collections. For example, in his most recent volume, Given Light, he has placed a photograph of a road sign on the Kilkenny to Clonmel main road – a stop sign ‘vandalised’ by the addition of the word “Ah” above the word “STOP” and the Christian name “PJ” beneath it.47 Here, an unknown, very local artist has taken a universal negative imperative and turned it into a response to the punchline of an unheard story or joke to which the reader wishes they had been party. The photograph carrying the subsequent message, “Ah Stop PJ”, is positioned right at the centre of Coady’s collection, between a poem celebrating the power of all created things to be an “outflanker / of winter”,48 and another photograph in which the gable end of a town-house, in shadow on its ground floor, is vividly lit up by sunlight on its upper level (to which a ladder leaning against the wall invites one to ascend).49 This photograph in turn is followed by the poem “Litanies and Light”, in which the poet-speaker steps outside to look through a telescope at the moon while, a few fields away, a local woman lies dying with her family and neighbours around her. The preceding two photographs have prepared the reader to understand that, in “Litanies and Light”, although death remains at the heart of life, life is affirmed over death: the dying woman is “pillowed in her townland’s / intricate nest of kinship / and acquaintance”, and is affirmed through physical touch over and over at this moment of her departing, “as though this journey / were like any other / of her life”.50 Such careful arrangement of his diverse materials testifies to the manner in which Coady’s work aims to outflank any given signpost in our culture which would block the hopeful forward movement of human beings in time.

  • 51 Michael Coady, “A Litany for Monsieur Sax”, in Going by Water, p. 90-92.
  • 52 Ibid., p. 90.
  • 53 Ibid., p. 91.
  • 54 Ibid., p. 92.
  • 55 Michael Coady, “A Local Habitation”.
  • 56 Michael Coady, “A Litany for Monsieur Sax”, p. 92.

13Coady’s writing is characterised by stylistic realism transmuted from within through key elements of fantasy, ritual, and subaltern speech. For example, his use of chant-like effects generates formal equivalents of the experience being described in “A Litany for Monsieur Sax”.51 Here, the poet pays homage to the inventor of the saxophone and “those jazzmen”52 who played it, by communicating this art’s “extemporizing joy, [its] carnal utterance”53 via religious-type litany as he invokes individual sax players of old to “Play for us […] Play for us”.54 As a writer who has described himself as “one of those for whom some kind of religious dimension is an imaginative necessity”,55 such invocation is the opposite of blasphemous in its claiming of art’s power “now and at the hour of exaltation / of emptiness and utter absolution”,56 for Coady’s litany celebrates human creativity as a joy freely shared with all.

  • 57 See, for example, Michael Coady, “Riverman” (uncollected poem), Riverine, no. 1, 1986, p. 4; “The W (...)

14In Coady’s aesthetic, creativity is available to everyone and is particularly demonstrated by the many unconstrained characters among his dramatis personae who become central to the renewal of culture in their self-positioning at an angle from the social establishment – figures like the rivermen, tongue-twisting jokers, and the many women in his work from nuns to pub-owners to manual workers of the past who break societal and gender conventions from within.57 In effect, Coady’s option for the local is also an option for community conceived in inclusively democratic as well as broadly philosophical terms. This crucial choice is one which has not been without cost to his position in the idiosyncratic world of Irish letters into which his work emerged, as becomes apparent when we explore Coady’s unsettled critical reception in relation to the status of the local in Irish literary culture.

Coady’s uneven critical reception and his challenge to binary thinking in Irish cultural debate

  • 58 Fred Johnston, “In: Verse”, p. 44.
  • 59 To date (summer 2023), two academic essays on Coady’s work surface in library searches, both by cri (...)
  • 60 The Poets and Poetry of Munster: One Hundred Years of Poetry from South Western Ireland, Clíona Ní  (...)
  • 61 In this regard, critical responses to Coady can be compared with those to early Heaney as analysed (...)

15A member of Aosdána since 1998 and recognised among his peers as “a fine and tried poet by any critical measure”,58 the relative dearth of attention to Coady’s work to date within academia (especially on his own side of the Atlantic) is noticeable.59 Take, for example, the absence of a chapter on Coady in the recent fine collection of essays, The Poets and Poetry of Munster (2023), in which – notwithstanding the vagaries of chance and constraints impacting editorial choice – over twenty other poets from this province writing in both Irish and English are treated.60 While contributing factors to Irish criticism’s collective neglect of Coady may include his comparatively late first collection, subsequent broadly-spaced book publication, and his interest in memoir and social history, a more immediate reason is likely to be critical uncertainty about his work’s option for the local and the communal in the shape of a particularised small town and its people, and his output’s associated perceived formal looseness. The thematic and formal capaciousness of Coady’s representation of local community has generated disagreement about his work among critics, suggesting an anxiety about unspoken standards of lyric tightness and individualism which Coady’s work is seen to transgress.61

  • 62 “The Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry: Michael Coady”, New Hibernia Review, vol. 8, no. 2, 2 (...)
  • 63 Robert Greacen, “Razor Sharp”, review of City of Razors, by Eddie Linden, Athlone?, by Desmond Egan (...)
  • 64 Gerald Dawe, “Notices of Burden”.
  • 65 Patrick Ramsey, “Quality and Quantity”, review of On Ballycastle Beach, by Medbh McGuckian, Talk, T (...)
  • 66 Terence Brown, “Seconds Out”, review of The Irish for No, by Ciaran Carson, Talk, Talk, by Peter Si (...)
  • 67 Des O’Rawe, “Restless Souls”, review of All Souls, by Michael Coady, The Man Made of Rain, by Brend (...)
  • 68 Ciaran Carson, “The Basket Weaver’s Hands”, p. 32, 30, 31.

16From the outset, Coady’s perceived unbinding of formal control along with his “love of passing things”,62 as well as his choice of local material, was the source of some conflict. Robert Greacen celebrated Coady’s debut collection – which won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 1979 – as “‘light verse’”,63 while Gerald Dawe described his second collection, Oven Lane (1987), as “remarkably free in spirit, terse, witty and maturely at ease with [itself]”.64 However, Patrick Ramsey criticised the same collection as including poems where “the unrhetorical becomes the prosaic, the verse grows unacceptably slack”, in a book “also marred by an over-abundance of styles”.65 Terence Brown effectively damns the contents of Oven Lane with faint praise as “warm, emotionally open occasional poems […] of decent, humane feeling where the pressure of the language and the tension of form almost never quite come fully together and where the overall effect remains somewhat unfocussed”. Brown remarks, “Coady is at his best when a concentration on the material world enforces formal discipline. At other moments the verse seems slack and the language diffuse”. This critic considers Coady’s “rather hit and miss mixture of techniques and influences” to be the mark of an “apprentice poet […] still unsure of his intentions”.66 Later on, Des O’Rawe echoes Brown’s strictures in his review of Coady’s third collection, All Souls (1997), where he proposes that the volume’s “eccentric structure” undermines its “formal scope and lyrical depth”.67 Meanwhile, however, Ciaran Carson praises the same volume’s “passion, its wit, its pathos, its reverence, its irreverence, and the integrity of its many connections”, applauding it as “written like a symphony” which “unites the demotic and the sophisticated”.68

  • 69 Peter Denman, “Catalonia to Carrick-on-Suir”, review of Done into English, by Pearse Hutchinson, On (...)
  • 70 John McAuliffe, “The River of Life”, review of Going by Water, by Michael Coady, The Irish Times, 2 (...)
  • 71 Charles Fanning, review of Going by Water, by Michael Coady, p. 145, 146.
  • 72 Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, “How Perfectly the Parts Fit”, review of Given Light by Michael Coady, Dubl (...)

17Fluctuation in critical responses to Coady’s flexible forms continued. Peter Denman admires the structure of his fourth collection, One Another (2003), as “a wholly attractive volume, shaped as a commonplace book set out in ten sections”.69 Reviewing Coady’s fifth collection, Going by Water (2009), John McAuliffe, on the one hand reprieves Robert Greacen’s early categorisation of Coady’s work, applauding the “great lightness in the book’s hop, skip and jump across genres” and recognising that, in this “big, generous book”, Coady “tells complicated stories with great economy and emotional directness”; at the same time, insistent standards of tautness guarding against (supposed) laxity, resurface – McAuliffe criticises the manner in which Coady’s “sketches of the town’s characters lack the focus and structure [of] comparable works” by other authors, describing Coady as “more a chronicler than a shaping participant”.70 Charles Fanning, in contrast, allows the likelihood that Coady intentionally wanted certain poems in Going by Water to “drift a bit” – their “eddying fuzziness” supporting the volume’s theme and context – and in consequence Fanning approves the “seemingly rambling discourse” of one sample piece as enabling it to become “perfectly plain and plainly perfect”.71 Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, in her review of Coady’s most recent collection Given Light (2017), likewise praises Coady’s “plainness of expression” as “impress[ing] on us the primacy of meaning and fact”, such that while the subjects of his poem “sprout and burst out of each other it seems spontaneously, […] his unpretentious skill in handling his themes allows them to grow with their natural momentum and claim their real weight”.72

  • 73 “The Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry: Michael Coady”, p. 160.
  • 74 The quintessential example here is Edna Longley’s famous essay, “Poetry and Politics in Northern Ir (...)
  • 75 Patrick Ramsey, “Quality and Quantity”, p. 125.
  • 76 Vona Groarke, Hereafter: The Telling Life of Ellen O’Hara, New York, New York University Press, 202 (...)
  • 77 Michael Coady, “The Use of Memory”, in All Souls, p. 81-135.
  • 78 Michael Coady, contribution to the special issue of Krino, no. 14, 1993, The State of Poetry, p. 12 (...)

18The very terms of praise of the small-scale in which Michael Coady’s work was celebrated in the 2004 citation for his Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Irish Poetry in the United States – he received the award “[f]or having made the intimacy of his world a shared intimacy; for having listened so attentively to humble voices, past and present; and for having given us a poetry of gratitude”73 – are likely to have made his work more invisible in the two and a half decades following his debut collection, published in 1980. In a period of increasingly fraught debate in Irish academic circles about the assumed conflictual relationship between tradition and modernity in Irish writing, this debate was conducted across zig-zag battle lines between post-colonialism and revisionism as approaches to Irish history and culture. Crucially, the consuming idea of a holding line between politics and poetry became a highly divisive focus of critical altercation during this period.74 Therefore, when Patrick Ramsey defines Coady’s work in Oven Lane as characterised by “brave simplicity”, describing these poems as “warm, genuinely felt, generous, alert to the joys and sadness of the everyday, not afraid to tackle what might be considered trite or sentimental”,75 he implicitly positions Coady’s work at a distance from the ‘cutting edge’ as understood in either political or formal terms within dominant debates in late-20th-century Irish poetry criticism. However, in recent years, more Irish poets have begun to follow Coady’s lead in experimenting with hybrid genre, mixed media and life-writing grounded in larger social history, such as Vona Groarke in her 2022 collection, Hereafter: The Telling life of Ellen O’Hara,76 which traces Groarke’s quest for her emigrant great-grandmother’s history in the United States – a volume which owes a clear debt to Coady’s example of an equivalent search for his great-grandfather as recorded in his 1997-collected long piece, “The Use of Memory”.77 Coady’s work testifies more clearly than ever now to the truth of his 1993 assertion that since “[p]oetry, and the human need for it, preceded both literacy and print”, then “[w]ords, and the mystery of language and life, will, we must presume, endure”, and furthermore, that in the resulting work’s poetics, “real [human] hungers will determine forms and functions, as they always have”.78

  • 79 Michael Coady, editorial comment on “Encounters: Menu of Poems 2018”, selected by Michael Coady, in (...)
  • 80 Michael Coady, “I Live Here”, RTÉ television documentary, presented by Michael Coady, produced and (...)
  • 81 Roz Cowman, “The Seed in the Dark”, p. 52.

19Rather than his work aligning itself with one or other side of the heated debate on formalism in Irish poetry criticism of the 1980s, 1990s and noughties, Coady’s output has always suggested a both / and rather than either / or modus operandi – with Coady defining poetry as “an art of compression reaching towards enchantment, mystery and insight”.79 Unsurprisingly, he also challenges the distinction between tradition and modernity in Irish culture: in his 1989 television documentary “I Live Here”, Coady argues that film, notwithstanding its potential to displace print culture, constitutes a new “cultural disguise” for “a retelling of things which are deep in our culture: heroic sagas, quests, horror and heroes, struggles”, concluding that “the video shop is as full of folklore as the room where the seanchaí [Gaelic storyteller] spoke”.80 In her late 1980s’ review of Oven Lane, Roz Cowman astutely divines such resistance to binary opposition as a key to Coady’s aesthetic, identifying his overarching concern as “the dance of Shiva, neither good nor evil, but each depending on the other, birth growing out of death, the seed in darkness”.81 Cowman’s prescient recognition signals to future critics that the best way to understand Coady’s unsettled critical reputation is in terms of the complex interplay of dynamic and static energy flow, not only in the subject matter of his own writing, but in the varying aesthetic ideals propounded by Irish poetry critics in his lifetime.

  • 82 Michael Coady, “Interview on Main Street”, in Going by Water, p. 45-46.
  • 83 Ibid., p. 45.

20Coady’s innate understanding of this dance allows him the equanimity to stand back from the cultural marketplace in which his work circulates, whilst carefully observing that forum’s instabilities of value – critical responses to his option for the local becoming a litmus test of the reliability of standards by which his work may be judged. Hence, towards the end of the Celtic Tiger, in the poem “Interview on Main Street”,82 Coady satirises Ireland’s globalised consumerist society as one where impatience with the seemingly backward and small-scale extends to art. In this economy, when a critic asks a poet, “So what kind of things do you write about?” (epigraph), cultural capital in the shape of that critic’s attention-span becomes rapidly forfeit when, in response, the poet directs them to an old man shuffling painfully on two sticks up the street of the poet’s small town, who when asked “how things are” will only “peer at you and answer, Not too bad”. The poet addressing the critic knows that “by the time he gets here you’ll be gone”, the critic having decided “There’s little here that’s worth your while to tape”.83 The critic will escape back to the metropolitan centre on the fast-lane motorway of literary visibility – a route to acclaim, this poem implies, where carefully-policed notions of cutting-edge relevance operate as invisible, hyper-inflationary tollbooths which drain the nation’s creative currency of truth. Coady’s excoriating 1995 diagnosis (in his essay, “The Sea-Divided Silence”) of contemporary Irish literary culture’s insular, self-involved lack of interest in what should be literature’s wider audience amongst the people is pertinent here:

  • 84 Michael Coady, “The Sea-Divided Silence”, Poetry Ireland Review, no. 46, 1995, p. 31.

Only in our own time has the contrived life-support system of a specialist elite enabled the establishment and self-referring prestige of literary modes which remain largely unread outside the incestuously small corrals of their own practitioners, courtiers and commentators.84

  • 85 Michael Coady, “Interview on Main Street”, p. 45.

In defiance of this ethos, Coady, in the poem “Interview on Main Street”, suggests that the kind of art which may accrue more lasting value is that which attunes itself to hidden worlds of experience, metaphorically “stay[ing] the course” along with that same old man who, though once upon a time “vigorous, astute [and] hard-swearing”, these days so slowly makes his daily odyssey along his own small-town main street that he’s “gear[ing] down to […] t’ai chi posturing”, yet who – along with the unexpected late winner of the local Slow Bicycle Race – can nonetheless boldly assert “I’m last […] and that means that I’m first”.85

Coady’s resistance to patriarchal provincialism through his focus on the quotidian local

  • 86 Michael Coady, preface to Carrick-on-Suir and Its People, Patrick C. Power (ed.), Dun Laoghaire, An (...)
  • 87 Michael Coady, “The Holes in History”, p. 21.

21Coady reminds us: “We do well never to scorn the fields and streets among which we grew up, for they haunt us all our lives”.86 Fittingly then, in his aptly-titled poem, “The Holes in History”, Coady declares his work’s interest in the “unwritten annals / of the [seemingly] unimportant”87 – the multitudinous peripheral details of everyday reality and lived experience which have unregistered but real bearing on larger historical outcome. Coady’s life-work is based on the principle that, as a writer,

  • 88 Michael Coady, “I Live Here”, 4:52-5:18.

[…] your particular challenge is to focus closely on the grain in the wood, so to speak, and the closer you focus, the more the thing opens out. The concept of small or large becomes almost meaningless if you focus closely enough.88

22He extends this principle of correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm to advocate global consciousness of man’s interdependence with nature: his poem “Home” reminds us that

We share dark and light
with the Lesser Celandine
unveiling here its nothing
less than cosmic
gesture at our feet

  • 89 Michael Coady, “Home”, in Going by Water, p. 159.

for Earth has voyaged out
around its star again89

  • 90 Moynagh Sullivan, “The Treachery of Wetness…”, p. 453-454, 457-458, 461.
  • 91 See, for example, Coady’s prose poem, “The Five Useless Things” (One Another, p. 154), where three (...)
  • 92 Coady notes the significance of Kavanagh’s distinction between the parochial and the provincial in (...)

23For Coady, because the wider world effectively is the local cut to a larger pattern, and since the writer’s vocation demands that they concentrate on the individual elements within any such pattern, his work’s option for the local is non-negotiable. It follows that his output implicitly interrogates those patriarchally-inflected notions of the artist’s necessary exile from home and homeland which dominated 20th-century Irish literary culture’s treatment of place. Coady’s work challenges sub-Joycean hegemonic ideas of individualism which intimate that the artist must prove themselves through removal from their original place. As Moynagh Sullivan has shown in relation to Seamus Heaney’s critical reception, acts of ostentatious rejection of the home ground often indicate anxiety about (perceived) feminine passivity and threat associated with the domestic site and maternal body of origin.90 Where such a mindset operates, artists – male and female alike – implicitly are encouraged to imaginatively return to the home ground in confrontational mode, to root out its secrets rather than rediscover that locus’s generative power. Coady’s work – in tune with his recurrent burlesque of culturally-idealised male sexual prowess91 – calls into question the patriarchal subtext of such a model of artistic agency, interrogating the complacency and (in Kavanagh’s terms) the underlying provincialism of such an axiomatic equation between personal freedom and exile.92 For Coady, in contrast, living in the place in which he was born

  • 93 Michael Coady, interviewed by Michael Ryan for RTÉ Television, broadcast 7 January 1988, RTÉ Archiv (...)

[…] means I can focus on the particular and examine the mundane, which I see as a mystery anyway […] the mystery of people living and dying in a place and other people taking their places […]. It’s part of my complexion [fundamental disposition] that I was made by this place and continually discover things about it.93

  • 94 Michael Coady, “The Sea-Divided Silence”, p. 28, 29, 28. See also Tobin’s and Wall’s treatments of (...)
  • 95 For example, Coady positions the death of his great-grandmother Mary Agar in Carrick as the startin (...)
  • 96 Eavan Boland, Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time, Manchester, Carcanet, (...)
  • 97 Boland’s argument on the relationship between Irish women’s experienced reality and the reality of (...)
  • 98 Wall argues that the modern Irish poet of his generation to whom Coady’s work is thematically close (...)

24A key context for Coady’s scepticism with regard to critical presumptions of the writer’s need to leave his home ground, is his alertness to involuntary exile in the experience of the Irish diaspora. This is an arena of Irish history which has become, in Coady’s words, a “hiding-hole of denial and evasive amnesia in the national psyche”, one generated by and itself generating “a dumb duality of silence” both in those who left and those who stayed – a silence which continues to “ensur[e] [the] complacency and security of the establishment at home”.94 Coady is alert to the gendered frameworks of this muteness,95 just as he is alert to the gendered constructs underpinning assumptions of freedom via self-directed exile. In this regard, it may be no accident that his early work emerged contemporaneously with a highly contentious critical debate in the 1980s and 1990s about the relationship between poets from Northern Ireland and women poets, who were problematically set at odds with one another as competitors for the baton of public political significance and innovation in the Irish poetry tradition. In particular, Eavan Boland’s explicit connecting of “the truths of womanhood and the defeats of a nation”96, became a focus of critical controversy97 – yet Boland’s argument is one which aligns her aesthetic priorities with Coady’s in key ways.98

  • 99 Michael Coady, “Angels and Ministers of Grace”, in One Another, p. 163-166.

25Coady’s position on the phenomenon of the increased activity and visibility of women poets, is signalled in his argument for women priests in “Angels and Ministers of Grace”.99 In this poem he conducts an imaginary dialogue on this topic with the then Pope, John-Paul II (who was known for his explicit foreclosure of debate on women priests), by celebrating the women who worked in many different roles in the hospital where Coady had recently undergone heart-surgery. For the poet, these women

  • 100 Ibid., p. 165-166.

[…] need no bishop’s benediction
to be what they’re already here –
[…]
flesh-and-blood
priestesses.100

  • 101 Ibid., p. 163.
  • 102 Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Laura O’Connor, “Comhrá”, The Southern Review, vol. 31, no. 3 (...)
  • 103 Michael Coady, “Angels and Ministers of Grace”, p. 166.

Coady, in this poem, tackles the exclusion of women from the priesthood by anticipating current debates on trans-gender identities: as part of his argument, he affirms women priests on the basis of the anarchic biological fact that, just as heart-transplant surgery can mean that a priest might “be blessed to embrace and embody / a woman’s eyes or heart, / kidneys, lungs or liver”, it is also the case that “conversely – / a resurrected woman” might be “walking around / or making love” with new “vital organs / […] endowed with Holy Orders”.101 Coady’s defense of women in relation to Holy Orders in this text reminds us of Medbh McGuckian’s recollection that at the age of sixteen, as the only woman at her first poetry reading in Belfast, she “decided that the second-best thing to becoming a priest would be to become a poet”.102 Coady implicitly claims on behalf of woman the right to both vocations, his poem noting that, in the Irish-language, the exchange of words between two people greeting each other proceeds as an interaction demanding more than the tokenistic “cúpla focal” to say hello (“Dia dhuit”) used by the Pope during his 1979 visit here: instead, to be sustained, their interaction requires that the names of female sacred figures be recurrently added – “Dia is Muire dhuit is Pádraig agus Bríd” – ensuring that the last word cannot be claimed by a more authoritative male.103

  • 104 Michael Coady, “I Live Here”, 51:56-52:07.

26Even though the speaker of this poem recognises that his triumph in such a lexical clash may offer only “the illusion that I’ve won”, Coady’s output as a whole carries substantial weight in the larger debate on women (priest) poets, by virtue of his work’s refusal of an either / or relationship between the private domestic and the public political domains – that gendered battle-ground whose major campaign was the Field Day Anthology debates of the early 1990s. Coady’s option to situate his life-work in his own intimately-known place – like Boland’s thematic option for the realm of suburbia she daily inhabited – has led this poet to confront head-on the issue of insularity. In his 1989 RTÉ television documentary, “I Live Here”, Coady states, “I don’t posit any particular virtue in small towns or small communities rather than in larger ones. I happen to live in a small one”.104 Later on, deconstructing that documentary’s title phrase “I Live Here”, he clarifies this point:

  • 105 Michael Coady, interview by Catriona Clutterbuck, 26 June 1990.

If we split the title and think of the mystery of “I live” – this is the essential thing. “Here” is circumstantial – it could be here [in Carrick-on-Suir] or it could be anywhere […]. It has to be somewhere, but one place isn’t any more important than another place in terms of human experience, because the basics of human experience are everywhere, at every crossroads.105

  • 106 In the same documentary, “I Live Here”, Coady says of anyone’s place of origin: “Irrespective of wh (...)
  • 107 Michael Coady, “A Local Habitation”.
  • 108 Michael Coady, “Sruthán”, from the sequence “A State of Light”, in Given Light, p. 20.

Instead, locality for Coady involves an attitude to the life-world immediately surrounding each individual which commands them to invest their interest and creativity in that local world, because this hands-on contact is the most reliable means of cultivating an attitude of openness to the wider world.106 This involves “the mobility of the unanchored imagination […] with an open ticket to everywhere”.107 Hence, Coady’s work affirms that ours is a space-time of multiple dimensions intermingling while also offering themselves singly to our attention – “faint aero-trails skywrite / a kiss-cross sign / over the world”,108 communicating the immeasurably rich layeredness of our lives on this planet.

Conclusion: open-ended destiny in Coady

  • 109 Michael Coady, “The Use of Memory”, p. 91.
  • 110 Ibid., p. 89.
  • 111 Michael Coady, “I Live Here”, 3:56-4:00.
  • 112 Michael Coady, “Benediction on the Sixteenth of May”, in Given Light, p. 88.
  • 113 Ibid., p. 89.
  • 114 Michael Coady, Full Tide…, p. 39-40.

27One of Michael Coady’s foundational principles is that “we are each given a darkly-woven basket of inheritance, but it comes open-ended into our hands”.109 In this regard, Carrick-on-Suir’s pivotal location “at the tide-head of the Suir”,110 at the point where currents twice-daily switch direction and the river flows backwards, is important to Coady’s poetics. For him, “a river in a town is a sort of liberation of spirit”:111 the tidal Suir running through Carrick is a natural phenomenon which symbolically marks the extraordinary power of the given place and moment to simultaneously contain and release the power of change. In his recent work, as Coady has aged and his work more directly confronts the major transitions involved in mortality, he registers “a key change in the river / as the current slows, responding to […] / […] the dance / of sun and moon and earth”, as the tidal river of one poet’s lived life prepares once more to flow in an alternative direction.112 The very quick of such change is registered in his work as the same poem invokes: “Blessed be the stillness / as the river holds its breath”.113 In Coady’s work, the ephemerality of consciousness and of the moment is redeemed at the instant of its dissolution by the fact that every end is a beginning: “Though one day and one tide is fleeting, there’s all the time and tides in the world, as there was before I came, and will be long after I’m gone”.114

  • 115 Michael Coady, “The Blind Arch”, in All Souls, p. 16.
  • 116 Michael Coady, “Dear Afterlife”, in Given Light, p. 34.
  • 117 Michael Coady, “Harvest Home”, from the sequence “A State of Light”, in Given Light, p. 22.
  • 118 Michael Coady, “Dear Afterlife”, p. 36.
  • 119 Ibid., p. 36-37.
  • 120 Michael Coady, “News from the Sky”, p. 49.
  • 121 Michael Coady, “The Star”, p. 133.
  • 122 Michael Coady, “Beethoven and the Leaves”, in Going by Water, p. 111.

28“How easy it is in the end once you let go”,115 although letting go means acknowledging “the proper weight of death – / its drop to final deep beyond coastline / and continental shelf”.116 Coady’s larger work proposes that the irrefutable plunge into nothingness which we all face is never all there is, his work recurringly claiming our need and right “to face down once again / the chill nightfall” of death whilst in this life.117 Hence his poem “Dear Afterlife”, about the funeral of his poet-friend Dennis O’Driscoll – notwithstanding the fact of the “darkening afternoon” of our individual destinies – encourages us to “bypass” cultural instructions to “GET IN LANE” with associated warnings about “LOW HEADROOM”,118 and instead – while we can – at once acknowledge and dodge the blankness of oblivion coming towards us by turning towards light and heat and food and company and story:119 by these means, Coady’s work frequently reminds us, we succour each other. Like his neighbour in springtime with “face turned up / to the sky from her wheelchair”,120 many people in Coady’s community model how to go beyond the limitations of what has been given whilst remaining rooted on this earth, challenging the fixity of individual destinies: “Living as if. As if our uncertain hopefulness might in itself shed light on one another. As if we know why we cannot but sing against the dark”.121 Following the example of Beethoven who in his music is “a deaf, dead man / refusing to sing dumb”,122 Coady’s work affirms our claim upon meaning and belonging, in full awareness of the larger dark against which we raise our small, full voices.

29Outflanking ideological and historical barriers, Coady’s work proposes that humanity redeems itself by its capacity to re-imagine the real within the terms of irreducible fact. As such, his writing functions like the rock mid-stream under water in the river Suir near Carrick on which

  • 123 Michael Coady, “The Friar’s Rock”, in Going by Water, p. 26.

swimmers out beyond their depth
on lost summer days
stood up in mid-flow
when they found footing
as they still do
on that hidden mark
that’s settled there123

  • 124 Michael Coady, “Dear Afterlife”, p. 37.

30Michael Coady’s poetry conceives of a universe which can be responsive to human desire, notwithstanding destiny and history’s obdurate claims. This in turn inspires us to make of the broken bits of our lives a coverlet and a shelter for each other, now and into the future. Coady’s work as a whole “Propos[es] a health embracing / both sides of the dark river” of fate,124 offering an aisling directed to, and urgently needed by, the Ireland of the present and the future.

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Notes

1 Quotations from Michael Coady’s poetry are included by kind permission of the author and The Gallery Press, Loughcrew, Oldcastle, County Meath and appear in the following publications: Oven Lane (1987), All Souls (1997), One Another (2003), Given Light (2017), Going by Water (2009). See https://gallerypress.com.

2 Michael Coady, “The Star”, in One Another, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2003, p. 133.

3 Michael Coady, “Watching ‘The Dead’ in the Living Room”, in All Souls, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 1997, p. 30.

4 Michael Coady, “The Use of Memory”, in All Souls, p. 89.

5 Michael Coady, Two for a Woman, Three for a Man, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 1980.

6 Michael Coady, Oven Lane and Other Poems [1987], revised edition, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2014.

7 Michael Coady, Going by Water, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2009.

8 Michael Coady, Given Light, Oldcastle, The Gallery Press, 2017.

9 Michael Coady, Full Tide: A Miscellany, Nenagh, Relay Books, 1999.

10 Michael Coady, “A Blue Gate in Lough Street”, in Oven Lane…, p. 24.

11 Roz Cowman, “The Seed in the Dark”, review of Oven Lane, by Michael Coady, Riverine, no. 3, 1989, p. 56.

12 Michael Coady, “Are You a Library?”, in Given Light, p. 25.

13 Michael Coady, “A Local Habitation”, The Open Mind Guest Lecture, RTÉ Radio 1, produced by John Quinn, broadcast 12 July 2000. The author acknowledges with gratitude the transcript of this lecture given to her by Michael Coady. The original quote in Robert Penn Warren’s words is as follows: “And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see – it is, rather, a light by which we may see – and what we see is life” (Robert Penn Warren, “Formula for a Poem”, Saturday Review, 22 March 1958, p. 23).

14 Fred Johnston, “In: Verse”, review of Santiago Sketches, by David McLoughlin, Migrant Shores: Irish, Moroccan and Galician Poetry, edited by Manuela Palacias, Given Light, by Michael Coady, and First of the Feathers, by Amanda Bell, Books Ireland, no. 378, March / April 2018, p. 44.

15 Daniel Tobin, “The Parish and Lost America: The Witness of Michael Coady’s All Souls”, in Awake in America: On Irish-American Poetry, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 2011, p. 207.

16 Michael Coady, “The Star”, p. 133.

17 Michael Coady, “Catch of the Day at the River Suir Café”, in Given Light, p. 29.

18 Michael Coady, “June Impromptu”, in Going by Water, p. 21.

19 Ibid.

20 Michael Coady, “The Joie de Vivre of Annick and Pierre”, in Going by Water, p. 77.

21 Michael Coady, “An Updated History of Sexual Intercourse”, in One Another, p. 61.

22 Charles Fanning, review of Going by Water, by Michael Coady, New Hibernia Review, vol. 14, no. 4, 2010, p. 145.

23 Michael Coady, “Aisling”, in Given Light, p. 19.

24 Gerald Dawe, “Notices of Burden”, review of Talk, Talk, by Peter Sirr, and Oven Lane, by Michael Coady, Irish Literary Supplement, vol. 7, no. 2, 1988, p. 36, online: https://newspapers.bc.edu/?a=d&d=irishliterary19880901-01&e=-------en-20--1--txt-txIN-------.

25 Michael Coady, “Palestrina and Amigo Holden of the Hill”, in Given Light, p. 57.

26 Ibid., p. 58.

27 Michael Coady, “The Via Roma”, in One Another, p. 39.

28 Michael Coady, “The Holes in History”, in One Another, p. 22.

29 Michael Coady, “Meteor Shower”, in All Souls, p. 65.

30 Michael Coady, “Freeze-Frame”, in Given Light, p. 39.

31 Michael Coady, “Naming Names”, in Oven Lane…, p. 31.

32 Michael Coady, interview by Catriona Clutterbuck, 26 June 1990, Carrick-on-Suir (unpublished).

33 Coady recalls local response to this poem in Carrick-on-Suir as follows: “Once it was published […] people flocked to me with other ones, saying, ‘Oh, you never put in so-and-so’ – now I’ve a vast collection of nicknames” (ibid.).

34 Michael Coady, “48 Lines to the People of Carrick Concerning Rights and River-Lanes”, Bellman Broadsheet no. 1, published by the author as a handout, and in a parchment edition of two hundred signed copies, at Carrick-on-Suir, May 1990.

35 Michael Coady, “Michael Coady on Carrick-on-Suir”, in This Place Speaks to Me: An Anthology of People and Places, John Quinn (ed.), Dublin, Veritas, 2016, p. 132.

36 Eamonn Wall, “The Use of Memory: Michael Coady’s All Souls”, in Writing Modern Ireland, Catherine E. Paul (ed.), Clemson, Clemson University Press, 2015, p. 118, 120.

37 Ciaran Carson, “The Basket Weaver’s Hands”, review of All Souls, by Michael Coady, Poetry Ireland Review, no. 58, 1998, p. 30.

38 Daniel Tobin, “The Parish and Lost America…”, p. 201.

39 Ibid., p. 199.

40 Michael Coady, “A Local Habitation”. Coady’s long friendship with County Clare traditional Irish musicians Packie and Micho Russell led him to write a memoir commemorating these two brothers: Michael Coady, The Well of Spring Water: A Memoir of Packie and Micho Russell of Doolin, Carrick-on-Suir, n.p., 1996.

41 Eamonn Wall, “The Use of Memory…”, p. 124.

42 Michael Coady, “The Friction of Feet in Time”, in One Another, p. 51-52.

43 Ibid., p. 52.

44 Michael Coady, “A Local Habitation”.

45 Michael Coady, “The Friction of Feet in Time”, p. 52.

46 Michael Coady, One Another, p. 58.

47 Michael Coady, Given Light, p. 50.

48 Michael Coady, “News from the Sky”, in Given Light, p. 49.

49 Michael Coady, Given Light, p. 51.

50 Michael Coady, “Litanies and Light”, in Given Light, p. 52, 53.

51 Michael Coady, “A Litany for Monsieur Sax”, in Going by Water, p. 90-92.

52 Ibid., p. 90.

53 Ibid., p. 91.

54 Ibid., p. 92.

55 Michael Coady, “A Local Habitation”.

56 Michael Coady, “A Litany for Monsieur Sax”, p. 92.

57 See, for example, Michael Coady, “Riverman” (uncollected poem), Riverine, no. 1, 1986, p. 4; “The Wobbler’s Tale” (Going by Water, p. 31-32), “The Gift of Tongues” (One Another, p. 69-70), “Pierced” (One Another, p. 149-150), “The Nun in Prison” (Going by Water, p. 83-88), “Isn’t History Great” (Going by Water, p. 53-54), “Sheela na Gig” (Going by Water, p. 122-124), and Coady’s list of the dead in his long poem “All Souls” (All Souls, p. 47-61) which includes a number of women workers in unexpected roles.

58 Fred Johnston, “In: Verse”, p. 44.

59 To date (summer 2023), two academic essays on Coady’s work surface in library searches, both by critics based in the United States and each focusing on the same 1997 collection: Daniel Tobin’s 2011 book chapter, “The Parish and Lost America: The Witness of Michael Coady’s All Souls” (in Awake in America…, p. 196-216), an earlier version of which appeared in New Hibernia Review in 2003, and Eamonn Wall’s 2015 book chapter “The Use of Memory: Michael Coady’s All Souls” (in Writing Modern Ireland, p. 116-127), originally published in the journal South Carolina Review in 2009.

60 The Poets and Poetry of Munster: One Hundred Years of Poetry from South Western Ireland, Clíona Ní Ríordáin, Stephanie Schwerter (eds.), Stuttgart, Ibidem Press, 2023.

61 In this regard, critical responses to Coady can be compared with those to early Heaney as analysed by Moynagh Sullivan, who argues that a dominant strain of such responses represented “an Oedipally configured poetics” in its implicit insistence that “the appearance of hardness and lack of fat and flesh epitomize excellence in a poem” (Moynagh Sullivan, “The Treachery of Wetness: Irish Studies, Seamus Heaney and the Politics of Parturition”, Irish Studies Review, vol. 13, no. 4, 2005, p. 456, 457).

62 “The Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry: Michael Coady”, New Hibernia Review, vol. 8, no. 2, 2004, p. 159.

63 Robert Greacen, “Razor Sharp”, review of City of Razors, by Eddie Linden, Athlone?, by Desmond Egan, Two for a Woman, Three for a Man, by Michael Coady, The Boats Are Home, by Brendan Kennelly, Books Ireland, no. 51, March 1981, p. 37.

64 Gerald Dawe, “Notices of Burden”.

65 Patrick Ramsey, “Quality and Quantity”, review of On Ballycastle Beach, by Medbh McGuckian, Talk, Talk, by Peter Sirr, Oven Lane, by Michael Coady, Pillars of the House: An Anthology of Verse by Irish Women from 1690 to the Present, edited by A. A. Kelly, The Irish Review, no. 5, 1988, p. 125.

66 Terence Brown, “Seconds Out”, review of The Irish for No, by Ciaran Carson, Talk, Talk, by Peter Sirr, Oven Lane, by Michael Coady, Hidden Extras, by Dennis O’Driscoll, Poetry Ireland Review, no. 22-23, 1988, p. 68.

67 Des O’Rawe, “Restless Souls”, review of All Souls, by Michael Coady, The Man Made of Rain, by Brendan Kennelly, The Blue Globe, by Catherine Phil McCarthy, Thirst, by David Wheatley, The Irish Review, no. 23, 1998, p. 170.

68 Ciaran Carson, “The Basket Weaver’s Hands”, p. 32, 30, 31.

69 Peter Denman, “Catalonia to Carrick-on-Suir”, review of Done into English, by Pearse Hutchinson, One Another, by Michael Coady, Poetry Ireland Review, no. 79, 2004, p. 105.

70 John McAuliffe, “The River of Life”, review of Going by Water, by Michael Coady, The Irish Times, 23 January 2010, Weekend, p. 11, online: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/the-river-of-life-1.1272361.

71 Charles Fanning, review of Going by Water, by Michael Coady, p. 145, 146.

72 Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, “How Perfectly the Parts Fit”, review of Given Light by Michael Coady, Dublin Review of Books, April 2019, online: https://drb.ie/articles/how-perfectly-the-parts-fit.

73 “The Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry: Michael Coady”, p. 160.

74 The quintessential example here is Edna Longley’s famous essay, “Poetry and Politics in Northern Ireland”, in Poetry in the Wars, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1986, p. 185-210.

75 Patrick Ramsey, “Quality and Quantity”, p. 125.

76 Vona Groarke, Hereafter: The Telling Life of Ellen O’Hara, New York, New York University Press, 2022.

77 Michael Coady, “The Use of Memory”, in All Souls, p. 81-135.

78 Michael Coady, contribution to the special issue of Krino, no. 14, 1993, The State of Poetry, p. 12, 13.

79 Michael Coady, editorial comment on “Encounters: Menu of Poems 2018”, selected by Michael Coady, in celebration of Poetry Day Ireland, 26 April 2018, online: https://www.artsandhealth.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Menu-of-Poems-2018.pdf.

80 Michael Coady, “I Live Here”, RTÉ television documentary, presented by Michael Coady, produced and directed by Peter McNiff, broadcast on RTÉ 1, 8 November 1989, 15:21-16:17, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCD0TJW6M5E.

81 Roz Cowman, “The Seed in the Dark”, p. 52.

82 Michael Coady, “Interview on Main Street”, in Going by Water, p. 45-46.

83 Ibid., p. 45.

84 Michael Coady, “The Sea-Divided Silence”, Poetry Ireland Review, no. 46, 1995, p. 31.

85 Michael Coady, “Interview on Main Street”, p. 45.

86 Michael Coady, preface to Carrick-on-Suir and Its People, Patrick C. Power (ed.), Dun Laoghaire, Anna Livia Books, 1976, n.p.

87 Michael Coady, “The Holes in History”, p. 21.

88 Michael Coady, “I Live Here”, 4:52-5:18.

89 Michael Coady, “Home”, in Going by Water, p. 159.

90 Moynagh Sullivan, “The Treachery of Wetness…”, p. 453-454, 457-458, 461.

91 See, for example, Coady’s prose poem, “The Five Useless Things” (One Another, p. 154), where three men at the back of the crowd at a cemetery during the internment of a ninety-year-old man take covert joy in a riddle repeated by one of them which he had heard from “a woman in Cork”, in which the profitability of male sexual body parts is lampooned: “What are the five useless things in a man? […] Two tits with no milk. Two balls that can’t hop. And a cock that can’t crow”.

92 Coady notes the significance of Kavanagh’s distinction between the parochial and the provincial in his 1989 RTÉ television documentary, “I Live Here”, 26:06-26:26.

93 Michael Coady, interviewed by Michael Ryan for RTÉ Television, broadcast 7 January 1988, RTÉ Archives News Collection, 1:60-2:48 and 3:41-3:49, online: https://www.rte.ie/archives/collections/news/21265620-poet-michael-coady.

94 Michael Coady, “The Sea-Divided Silence”, p. 28, 29, 28. See also Tobin’s and Wall’s treatments of Coady’s engagement with the Irish diaspora (Daniel Tobin, “The Parish and Lost America…”, p. 211-215; Eamonn Wall, “The Use of Memory…”, p. 121-122, 125-126).

95 For example, Coady positions the death of his great-grandmother Mary Agar in Carrick as the starting point of the story of the dark fate of his family in 19th-century America (Michael Coady, “Michael Coady on Carrick-on-Suir”, p. 133).

96 Eavan Boland, Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time, Manchester, Carcanet, 1995, p. 148.

97 Boland’s argument on the relationship between Irish women’s experienced reality and the reality of suffering and defeat in Irish national history was objected to by Edna Longley as insufficiently challenging of nationalism – this critique being made on behalf of a revisionist historical approach which for Longley remains more compatible with the work of Northern Irish poets (Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1994, p. 173, 187-188).

98 Wall argues that the modern Irish poet of his generation to whom Coady’s work is thematically closest is Eavan Boland, by virtue of both of these writers’ concern with “mapping the lives of those erased from the narrative of history” (including the Irish diaspora), each using “family history as their point of entry” (Eamonn Wall, “The Use of Memory…”, p. 116, 118).

99 Michael Coady, “Angels and Ministers of Grace”, in One Another, p. 163-166.

100 Ibid., p. 165-166.

101 Ibid., p. 163.

102 Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Laura O’Connor, “Comhrá”, The Southern Review, vol. 31, no. 3, 1995, p. 596.

103 Michael Coady, “Angels and Ministers of Grace”, p. 166.

104 Michael Coady, “I Live Here”, 51:56-52:07.

105 Michael Coady, interview by Catriona Clutterbuck, 26 June 1990.

106 In the same documentary, “I Live Here”, Coady says of anyone’s place of origin: “Irrespective of whether you think you love it or hate it, it is part of you […]. The place in which you are born haunts you anyway for the rest of your life even if you get out of it – I didn’t” (52:09-52:23).

107 Michael Coady, “A Local Habitation”.

108 Michael Coady, “Sruthán”, from the sequence “A State of Light”, in Given Light, p. 20.

109 Michael Coady, “The Use of Memory”, p. 91.

110 Ibid., p. 89.

111 Michael Coady, “I Live Here”, 3:56-4:00.

112 Michael Coady, “Benediction on the Sixteenth of May”, in Given Light, p. 88.

113 Ibid., p. 89.

114 Michael Coady, Full Tide…, p. 39-40.

115 Michael Coady, “The Blind Arch”, in All Souls, p. 16.

116 Michael Coady, “Dear Afterlife”, in Given Light, p. 34.

117 Michael Coady, “Harvest Home”, from the sequence “A State of Light”, in Given Light, p. 22.

118 Michael Coady, “Dear Afterlife”, p. 36.

119 Ibid., p. 36-37.

120 Michael Coady, “News from the Sky”, p. 49.

121 Michael Coady, “The Star”, p. 133.

122 Michael Coady, “Beethoven and the Leaves”, in Going by Water, p. 111.

123 Michael Coady, “The Friar’s Rock”, in Going by Water, p. 26.

124 Michael Coady, “Dear Afterlife”, p. 37.

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Catriona Clutterbuck, « The Poetics of Locality in the Work of Michael Coady »Études irlandaises, 49-1 | 2024, 61-80.

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Catriona Clutterbuck, « The Poetics of Locality in the Work of Michael Coady »Études irlandaises [En ligne], 49-1 | 2024, mis en ligne le 28 mars 2024, consulté le 28 mai 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/etudesirlandaises/17958 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/etudesirlandaises.17958

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Catriona Clutterbuck

University College Dublin

Catriona Clutterbuck, enseignante à la faculté d’anglais, de théâtre et de cinéma de University College Dublin, est spécialiste de littérature irlandaise. Ses recherches sont centrées sur la poésie irlandaise contemporaine, avec un intérêt porté sur les questions de genre, de création littéraire, de foi et la poétique du deuil. Parmi ses publications récentes, on note des articles sur la poésie de Bernard O’Donoghue, la fiction de Deirdre Madden, le catholicisme dans la poésie féminine irlandaise, et une comparaison de Derek Mahon et Eavan Boland. Elle prépare actuellement un projet sur la représentation de la mort infantile dans la poésie irlandaise. Son premier recueil de poésie, The Magpie and the Child, a été publié par Wake Forest University Press en 2021.

Catriona Clutterbuck lectures in the School of English, Drama and Film at University College Dublin, specialising in Irish literature. Her research is focused on contemporary Irish poetry, with broader interests in gender, creativity, faith concepts, and the poetics of mourning. Recent output includes essays on the poetry of Bernard O’Donoghue, the fiction of Deirdre Madden, Catholicism in Irish women’s poetry, and a comparison of Derek Mahon and Eavan Boland. She is currently working on a project on the representation of child death in Irish poetry. Her debut poetry collection, The Magpie and the Child, was published with Wake Forest University Press in 2021.

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