Brendan Kennelly (b. 1936 – d.2021) was the prolific author of over twenty books of poetry as well as plays, novels and criticism. Born in Ballylongford in Co. Kerry, Kennelly was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin for thirty years. In his native country Kennelly is public property, both popular and controversial, not least for his collections Cromwell and The Book of Judas both of which generated many column inches on publication. Counting the rock band U2 amongst his friends and appearing in car adverts on Irish TV, Kennelly straddles both the public and private spheres in his unofficial role of “Ireland’s poetry confessor” (The Independent).

Kennelly said of himself “If I’m anything it’s open,” and this is borne out in his writing, particularly in the recurring idea of giving and receiving. Like the ‘Happy Grass’ that accepts “every human cry” there is space in a Kennelly poem for the good, the bad, the ugly (and the beautiful). His vision defies any attempt to impose strict categories on the world. He had much in common with the children who feature in some of his best-known poems, remaining wide-eyed in the face of the contradictory nature of life, describing both its malignity and its grace: in ‘Blackbird’ the bird’s yellow beak is both an instrument of violence and of song ‘Spontaneous as light, pure as flame.”

Music is a central motif, part of Kennelly’s obsession with voices. His poems are densely peopled with a cast of named characters whose stories are told in a variety of forms from strict ballad metre to free verse. Inanimate objects too have their say, be they a shell, the sea or a loaf of bread. But it’s in the movement into song and dance that a person becomes most truly him or herself as in his moving elegy ‘I See You Dancing, Father’: “You made your own music/Always in tune with yourself.” Kennelly’s reading (he was voted “the most attractive voice in Ireland” in a radio poll) brings out the inherent lilt of his poetry and conveys his sense of excitement about a universe that, despite its disasters, “insists that we forever begin” (‘Begin’).


Brendan Kennelly’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:

“I dabbled in words and I found they were my life. ” – Patrick Kavanagh

“He does not write at all whose poems no-one reads.” – Martial

” The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.” – Jean Cocteau

“Poetry is the ultimate democracy.” – Brendan Kennelly

“I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat.” – A. E. Housman

This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 13 June 2001 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Brendan Kennelly

The Happy Grass - Brendan Kennelly
Dream of a Black Fox - Brendan Kennelly
We Are Living - Brendan Kennelly
I See You Dancing, Father - Brendan Kennelly
Poem from a Three Year Old - Brendan Kennelly

Books by Brendan Kennelly



AE Memorial Prize for Poetry


Critics Special Harvey's Award


International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award


American Ireland Fund Literary Award


Ireland Fund of France Wild Geese Award

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