I was born in the village of Ramolin, near the small town of Shrule, in Co. Mayo, but have been living in Galway since the 1970s. I teach Philosophy in the School of Humanities at NUI Galway. My academic publications include A History of Irish Thought and A Dictionary of Irish Philosophers.
I wanted to write poems from an early age, and, under the influence of the work of Dylan Thomas, had my first poem, ‘Ripe Time’, published in New Irish Writing supplement in The Irish Press when I was still in my teens. I thought then that I was on the way to becoming a kind of Irish Dylan Thomas, and that I would soon dedicate myself to ‘my art and sullen craft’....
By the time I returned to writing poems, having spent an unconscionably long time trying to make myself employable, I could no longer write after the fashion of Dylan Thomas. I found myself writing a different kind of poem - the kind that I have been contributing to Irish and British magazines, and that I have included in the chapbook, The Small Hours (2006), and in my first full collection, The Hiding Place (2011).
Among the magazines that have published my poems are Magma, Poetry Ireland Review, Smiths Knoll, The Dark Horse, and The Rialto. I am very pleased to have been included in Best of Irish Poetry 2007, Best of Irish Poetry 2010, and The Forward Book of Poetry 2011.
I can still remember where that poem was located in the Senior Poetry anthology we had in secondary school. That poem—the ‘Winter’ song, from the closing scene of Love’s Labour’s Lost—was on one of the partly torn pages near the beginning of the book, which also lacked its front cover. The poem made an impression on me like no other I had read before.
Of course, I had previously read and learned by heart some great poems from an earlier anthology—poems like Keats’s ‘On the Grasshopper and the Cricket’, Milton’s ‘L’Allegro’, Wordsworth’s ‘The Green Linnet’, and Hopkins’s ‘Spring’—but this poem brought home to me most clearly and distinctly what poetry was and is, and it provided me with a touchstone for telling the difference between poetry and verse, between poetry and everything else.
It brought home to me that there is a kind of vividness that poems at their best can and should have. And it produced in me at the same time a craving for such vividness—a vividness without which I cannot be satisfied, no matter how admirable a poem or piece of writing may be in other respects. It is something like this vividness that Peter Porter has in mind, I think, when he describes poetry as ‘either language lit up by life, or life lit up by language’.