His sure hand is apparent in every line: syntax and pulse in the service of experience. -- August Kleinzahler
About John McAuliffe
John McAuliffe was born in 1973, and grew up in Listowel, County Kerry. He studied at NUI Galway, and has since 2002 lived in the UK, where he co-directs the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester. He has published four books with Gallery Press: A Better Life (2002), which received a major bursary from the Irish Arts Council / An Comhairle Ealaion and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, Next Door (2007), Of All Places (2011), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and The Way In (2015). The Way In (2015) was joint winner of the 2016 Michael Hartnett Award for Best Collection. He curated the Poetry Now Festival in Dun-Laoghaire-Rathdown between 2003 and 2007, and for three years chaired the Irish Times / Poetry Now Award for Best Collection. In 2010, he held the Heimbold Chair in Irish Studies at Villanova University, and is currently chief poetry critic for the Irish Times and co-editor of the Manchester Review.
McAuliffe is a central figure in a generation of Irish poets—including Vona Groarke, Leontia Flynn, and David Wheatley—which has come to prominence in the last two decades. His poetry is distinguished by its formal skill, delicate tonal shifts, and odd, striking imagery, all features which come freighted with obliquely political resonances. In his superbly crafted villanelle, “From Here”, McAuliffe explores the perspectival variations enabled by the form, repeating and subtly mutating his refrains in order to reflect the contingency of the borders and laws they describe:
The view from here is the border:
the lake, close-up, is vertical.
Not so much water as law and order.
The word for it might disappear,
the road run through its invisible wall.
The view form here is the border
vanishing round an otter,
swallows, tractor, trailer and damsel-
fly, not so much law as a stretch of water.
In his powerful sonnet, “On Earth”, McAuliffe provides a concentrated, deceptively simple statement of the function of his poetry. Poems are “A way of answering // to a day, to years of them, that we step into and speak up for. / To you. / There is no one else I am talking to.” The question of who that infinitely ambiguous “you” may refer to—whether a specific historical individual, a particular sub-section of society, or a general, pluralised audience of undefined scope—exemplifies the subtle, playful and provocative ways in which McAuliffe deals with important questions of poetic address and responsibility. His is a poetry which thinks deeply and inconclusively about its relation to the societies from which it emanates, but with an appealing ironical edge, as “Context”, a poem about providing private tuition in literature to “one or other daughter / Of the rich”, demonstrates in its wryly formulaic conclusion: “Relate / Questions to the title, / To the social as well / As to the personal”. For all its alertness to historical and political contexts, McAuliffe's poetry is fundamentally one devoted to conveying the shifting textures of lived experience, from the altering gradations of daylight during a working day to the sudden strangeness of the world as perceived by a child, “Sitting in the backseats of cars, going places, / Telephone wires on either side, like fences / For giant invisible horses”. McAuliffe's careful, spare readings of these poems add to their peculiar, elusive power.
John McAuliffe's recording was made on May 18th 2015 at The Soundhouse, London. It was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.