Deeley’s two-souled poetry inhabits a blunt lyricism
By Fred Johnston
Patrick Deeley, born in Loughrea, Co. Galway, is a poet who has long-since earned his stripes and must be rated as one of the foremost of our contemporary poets. No assessment of modern Irish poetry is fair or legitimate without mention of Deeley. He is a poet and not a self-publicist; which latter, in these days, is a vocation in itself. He has kept to the profession and calling of poet, which is the reason, perhaps, that we do not hear more of him.
Creatively deeply éngagé with the rurality of his upbringing, nonetheless he spans the delicate bridge between the rural experience and the urban, his working-place, but not his poetic wellspring. There is a possible connection here with the experience of Micheal Hartnett, who, departing from his more comfortable Gaelic inheritance, wrote himself unsuccessfully into a Dublin poetic in an attempt, arguably, to balance the constantly swinging counters of his identity. Deeley, who lives in Dublin and has retired from his post as principal of a Ballyfermot school, has made a much more easeful transition, pace the great Hartnett’s psycho-cultural dilemma induced by his writing in the Irish language. One thinks, albeit wistfully, also of Máirtín Ó Direáin, whose time in Dublin was, to him, a genuine exile. Ó Direáin made of his native Aran a dream-place, half-imagined, and Deeley does not yield to this attraction. The late Padraic Fallon, like Deeley a Co. Galway poet, was on the other hand so absorbed by Dublin that he was part of a literary and artistic circle that included the originators of The Dublin Magazine.
Deeley’s transition through the urban experience exists outside of and alongside the more absolutely rural; as is reflected in a Dublin-placed poem such as ‘Fisherman,’ which contains itself nicely while tracking back to ‘Keaveney’s Well,’ a distinctly Kavanagh-esque work, wherein
“ . . . the evening women
come to dunk their pails.”
Deeley’s two-souled poetry inhabits a blunt lyricism. And like a lighthouse beam it scours the elemental places, the island and headland places, for recognition and the flags of the familiar. “Ireland’s Eye”, with its shop-girls and late ‘Thirties boat trips, could be offering a transmuted version of Kavanagh’s bicycling couples off to a local dance; but this is a stanza’s spit outside the city of Dublin, and somehow Deeley’s light swings towards a similar isolation:
“. . . . Probably the girls giggled about everything
Later. . . .”
These are poems old and new. There is not a trace of a seductive Dublin ethos, of a purposeful rejection of the rural for the urban. He has succeeded where Hartnett failed, he has not being smothered by Dublin or come to believe that it possessed a secret poetic grail, if only acceptance by the soi-disant grail-keepers could be assured. His poems are love songs to the most cherishable components of Ireland’s rural nature, absent of rancour and full, dare one utter it, of true love. Deeley remains true to his own nature, which is the engine of his poetry. Both Kavanagh and Hartnett fumbled and flustered over the controls of their respective Dublinisations; Ó Direáin ached to be piloting something else.
Deeley still rocks and rhymes unabashedly to the rhythm of “ . . . the horse/my father made me as a child.” (‘Rocking Horse.’) And why should he not? It has served him well. It is a cliché to suggest that these poems are ‘true’ in a poetic and metaphysical sense, but a cliché is no bad thing always. The sheer weight of intelligence in this work keeps the horse upright, balances the dualism of the poet’s sensibility.
In a time when Dublin more than ever before has circled cultural wagons and rendered whenever possible the rural voice whispery and faint, Deeley shouts loud above it all with his heart-deep poetry, tightly-crafted and rich as loam, reminding us of an earthy and reassuring grandeur. With the same vigour did the late Seamus Heaney praise his own origins in the rural and, by a gentle ploughing of native ground, cultivate our own desires, in a confusing world, for a sure and uncluttered identity.