Brendan Kennelly's Guff is both mouthpiece and mouthed off, Devil's advocate and self critic, everyman and every writer consumed by self-doubt and self-questioning. The book of Guff is about words writing the man. Words drive him into the cave of himself where he questions everything including words that seem to constitute answers and answers that question both questions and answers. Do poets write poems or do poems write poets? And consider the shape of that question-mark, like a snake twisting in its sleep: so twisting, or twisted snakes, lie beside Guff as he tries to sleep in his cave, led now by the words that the snake hisses in his old head. All through his book-length poem Guff hears both the hissing of the words he believes he loves as well as the hissing mysteries of love. Guff is prey to the ruthless continuity of one word leading to another, until these words relax and settle down into what he thinks, or hopes, is "meaning".
Like Kennelly's Cromwell, The Book of Judas and Poetry My Arse, Guff is a knockabout Swiftian satire, a mischievous meditation on the human condition. It's also a powerfully expressive hymn to life with all its flaws, a snaking poem with the movement of a river in its different moods from cold anger to summer warmth for minds and bodies, which asks who or what is a genuinely noble person? Dublin is the backdrop to Guff's jabbering quest, a city where haunted men walk the streets talking to themselves, at times with passion, at times with an air of secrecy or self-accusation, at times as if seeking a friend prepared to listen. Guff is a brother to these strange wanderers. In the poem he becomes at one or at odds with them.
'I was delighted to get Brendan Kennelly's new book Guff from Bloodaxe Books. Though now a senior presence, Brendan has no time for complacency and, alongside Cromwell and Judas, he presents us with yet another self-doubting, questioning alter ego…' – Micheal O'Siadhail, Sunday Independent Books of the Year 2013
'Guff is “a rough draft of a man / waiting to be rewritten” (Rough Draft), and Kennelly records his musings, self-loathing and baroquely humorous assaults on all forms of boredom. The monologues circle love and desire, Ireland, poetry and the life of poets. The poems meander and often come to an abrupt stop, but they are quick on their feet, too, lively and unpredictable...' - John McAuliffe, The Irish Times
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.