Buffún is wracked by the living nightmare of Irish history. His torments are surreal but no less frightening than the awful truth. When Oliver Cromwell turns up, the hapless buffoon can't cope. This Cromwell is a cocky tyrant who wants to run a football team, or start a taxi business. Enter the Belly, the IRA, an Irish giant, and Billy of the Boyne: 'William of Orange is polishing pianos / In convents and other delicate territories, / His nose purple from sipping turpentine.'
Kennelly's Cromwell delighted and scandalised readers in Ireland when it was first published by a small Dublin press in 1983. This extraordinary, extravagantly Irish act of revenge has retained its power to shock.
'This is an astonishing book...an intense poetic outcry. It is energy and honesty that make this book of horrors humanly tolerable' – Seán Lucy, The Tablet.
'Brendan Kennelly has got guts. And a large portion of those are served up here. This book is not for the squeamish' – Mark Patrick Hederman, Irish Literary Supplement.
'One of the most extraordinary books I have ever come across in my life' – Gay Byrne, The Late Late Show (RTE).
'Cromwell is explosive, expansive, prolific, explicit' – Edna Longley.
'For Kennelly, a poetic voice, like a nation, is never itself alone, and Cromwell provides an important and unsettling example of this difficult dependence, an openness to history that does not rely on the self as an escape-route from nightmare, or upon the integrity of the individual voice as a guarantee of poetic value' – Peter McDonald, Irish Review.
'Kennelly has invented a Cromwell for the modern conscience, a figure to taunt the comfortable soul of a progressive Dubliner' – Peter Porter, Observer.
‘With considerable honesty and bravery Kennelly enters and becomes others in order to perceive, understand and suffer…always moving, probing and doubting, never willing or able to settle on any one certainty…There is clash and conflict, cruelty and irony, sardonic wit, passion’ – Aidan Murphy, Sunday Press.
‘He is the people’s poet. He spends his life wondering and thinking and daring to think and see differently. He also asks impossible questions and suggests unthinkable answers about the things that really matter. And he refuses to be precious or out of touch with the rest of us…a serious contribution to the nation’s mental and spiritual well-being’ – Jim Farrelly, Editor-in-Chief, Sunday Tribune.
Brendan Kennelly reads five poems
In 2007, Brendan Kennelly had a fellowship at Boston College in the US. Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed him at his flat on Chestnut Hill on an extraordinarily hot day. The first poem, ‘Love Cry’ is from a sequence of sonnets with that title, and is followed by ‘I See You Dancing, Father’ and ‘Bread’. The next poem, ‘Raglan Lane’, is his response to Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘On Raglan Road’, and has been sung by Mary Black and others (to the tune of ‘The Dawning of the Day’). The last poem, ‘Begin’, was written on recovery from serious illness and widely circulated amongst Irish Americans in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. These five poems are all included in The Essential Brendan Kennelly. The film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008).
Driving to work with Brendan Kennelly
Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley takes you on his morning commute through the Tarset Valley of Northumberland. He plays the CD which comes with The Essential Brendan Kennelly, and during the short journey, Brendan reads these five poems 'The Visitor', 'Poem from a Three Year Old', 'I See You Dancing, Father', 'My Dark Fathers' and 'Begin'. The additional footage of Brendan reading 'Begin' is from the DVD-book In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & edited by Neil Astley.
Brendan Kennelly: Reservoir Voices
Brendan Kennelly talks about his recent collection Reservoir Voices and reads four poems from it, 'Hope', 'Lie', 'Proposal' and 'Peace', plus his classic 'Begin' (from The Essential Brendan Kennelly at the end. This is an excerpt from a film made by Pamela Robertson-Pearce of Kennelly's reading at the Abbey Theatre in the Dublin Writers' Festival on 7 June 2009.