In the range of his themes Micheal O’Siadhail exemplifies the breadth of modern Irish poetry. Describing his book Hail! Madam Jazz, Lawrence Sail in Stand spoke of ‘a gifted and confident poet intent on celebration and not embarrassed about tackling the old numbers – love, friendship, memory, childhood, faith.
His The Chosen Garden combines autobiography and poetry. In A Fragile City O’Siadhail sets the intensities of a life against the backdrop of worlds shaken by change. While resonating with a classical tradition, he constantly seeks new dimensions: delving passions of friendship, marriage, trust and betrayal in an urban culture, exploring intricacies of music and science as he tries to shape an understanding of the shifts and transformations of the late or post-modern culture.
Micheal O’Siadhail is deeply rooted in Ireland while at home in the European and American traditions. In his Our Double Time O’Siadhail sees life lived in the awareness of bereavement and death as somehow doubled in intensity ‘both tasted and savoured’. Sometimes is in free verse, often in more formal modes, a concentration of meaning and music, of thought and language leads in his work to a clarity and accessibility.
The Gossamer Wall, the fruit of many years immersion in the testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust, was a new departure for Micheal O’Siadhail. In this book-length sequence he evokes the Holocaust in a stark, narrative style of great intensity.
In Love Life one of our most thoughtful and accomplished poets finds a fresh intensity and reach. In four sequences Micheal O’Siadhail tells of a life in love moving through the passionate erotic, the dramas of wooing, promising and quarrelling and the day-by-dayness of home. The seasons of love unfold – young love opening to intimacy, growth into commitment and the slow transformations of life together. Throughout, the core theme recurs: a lifetime’s amazement at the mystery of one woman. The book culminates in the subtleties and variations of growing old while revelling in the love of life à deux.
In Globe, Micheal O’Siadhail explores how a world is shaped. How do the past and our memories bear on the present? What kind of people help to alter the dynamics of history? How to face the open wounds of irreversible tragedies and loss?
The book’s climactic sequence, Angel of Change, catches the mood of immense changes in our times: cyberspace and non-stop trading, mixing of peoples and blurred boundaries, vulnerable and shifting values and in all of this a strange new jazz of possibility Born in a land, I wake in a globe.
Tongues Micheal O’Siadhail probes individual words, plays with grammar, and meditates on pictograms and the distilled meaning of proverbs across cultures. Like a genetic code, language brings human life over thousands of years into the present. It unites the personal and the social, allows for continuity and novelty and can arouse the strongest passions. In a variety of forms from sonnets to complex rhyming and syllabic patterns which match the thematic richness, O’Siadhail delights in language and shares its wonder and fascination.
Launching Collected Poems in Dublin the former Irish president Mary McAleese said:
I know from over forty years of drawing breath and oxygen from his poetry what I find there that heals and helps, what amuses and bemuses, what probes and reveals, tells and outs, vindicates and raises the heart; for this is a poet who makes himself brilliantly, lucidly vulnerable at times and subjects our weird old world with its wonders and its monstrosities, to the damning power of a loving heart turned livid betimes by the legacy of hardened hearts, turned liquid by the power of love to renew itself; a loving heart in perpetual search of meaning and comprehension, probing death, time, relationships, self and other. I love the dimensions that are spiritual, religious, metaphysical, eschatological and above all pastoral.
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