The Book of Judas, Brendan Kennelly’s 400-page epic poem in twelve parts, was the number one bestselling book in Ireland. The Little Book of Judas is a distillation of that literary monster, purged to its traitorous essence. But Judas never goes away. He continued to worm his way into Kennelly’s imagination long after the original book was “finished”, and The Little Book of Judas includes some damning new revelations from the eternal scapegoat and outcast.
Not merely lost but irredeemable, Kennelly’s bitterly articulate Judas speaks, dreams and murmurs – of past and present, history and myth, good and evil, of men, women and children, and of course money – until we realise that the unspeakable perpetrator of the apparently unthinkable, in penetrating the icy reaches of his own world, becomes a sly, many-voiced critic of ours.
‘This is our most ambitious work of literature since Beckett’s prose trilogy… It is a labyrinthine confessional, clamorous with sin, guilt and malice, with no hint of absolution. The gesture of betrayal reshapes itself in a thousand promiscuous writhings – sexual, political, social economic; the hells of Dante and Hieronymus Bosch rendered in steel-glass corridor, pedestrian arcade, academic cloister, with devils and damned in cashmere, denim, corduroy, polyester... It is the work of moral terrorism, a modern sensibility struggling with medieval demons. You would have to fare far to encounter in literature or life such naked fear – and its attendant self-loathing – so bravely confronted. The Book of Judas is magisterial, a work of supreme technical maturity’ – Augustine Martin, Irish Independent.
'The Book of Judas is an epic achievement and as over the top as the subject deserves. This is poetry as base as heavy metal, as high as the Holy Spirit flies, comic and tragic, from litany to rant, roaring at times, soaring at other times. Like David in the Psalms, like Robert Johnson in the blues, the poet scratches out Screwtape letters to a God who may or may not have abandoned him, and of course to anyone else who is listening' – Bono, Sunday Independent.
‘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.
‘His poems shine with the wisdom of somebody who has thought deeply about the paradoxical strangeness and familiarity and wonder of life’ – Sister Stanislaus Kennedy.
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.