Brendan Kennelly (1936-2021) was one of Ireland’s most distinguished and best loved poets, as well as a renowned teacher and cultural commentator. Born in Ballylongford, Co. Kerry, he was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin for over 30 years, and retired from teaching in 2005.
He published over 30 books of poetry, including Familiar Strangers: New & Selected Poems 1960-2004 (2004), which includes the whole of his book-length poem The Man Made of Rain (1998). He was best-known for two controversial poetry books, Cromwell, published in Ireland in 1983 and in Britain by Bloodaxe in 1987, and his epic poem The Book of Judas (1991), which topped the Irish bestsellers list: a shorter version was published by Bloodaxe in 2002 as The Little Book of Judas. His third epic, Poetry My Arse (1995), did much to outdo these in notoriety. All these remain available separately from Bloodaxe, along with his more recent titles: Glimpses (2001), Martial Art (2003), Now (2006), Reservoir Voices (2009), The Essential Brendan Kennelly: Selected Poems, edited by Terence Brown and Michael Longley, with audio CD (2011), and Guff (2013).
His drama titles include When Then Is Now (2006), a trilogy of his modern versions of three Greek tragedies (all previously published by Bloodaxe): Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ Medea and The Trojan Women. His Antigone and The Trojan Women were both first performed at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin, in 1986 and 1993 respectively; Medea premièred in the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1988, toured in England in 1989 and was broadcast by BBC Radio 3. His other plays include Lorca’s Blood Wedding (Northern Stage, Newcastle & Bloodaxe, 1996).
His translations of Irish poetry are available in Love of Ireland: Poems from the Irish (Mercier Press, 1989). He has edited several anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Irish Verse (1970/1981), Ireland’s Women: Writings Past and Present, with Katie Donovan and A. Norman Jeffares (Gill & Macmillan, 1994), and Dublines, with Katie Donovan (Bloodaxe Books, 1995), and published two early novels, The Crooked Cross (1963) and The Florentines (1967).
His Journey into Joy: Selected Prose, edited by Åke Persson, was published by Bloodaxe in 1994, along with Dark Fathers into Light, a critical anthology on his work edited by Richard Pine. John McDonagh’s critical study Brendan Kennelly: A Host of Ghosts was published in The Liffey Press’s Contemporary Irish Writers series in 2004. His anthology The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me – co-edited with Neil Astley – was published by Bloodaxe in 2022.
Books by Brendan Kennelly