Would I be right in suggesting that Gabriel Rosenstock and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill are probably the two greatest living Irish poets? There are many contenders for that title but when looks at the breadth of their works it is hard to imagine a more deserving rival than those two doyens of Ireland’s literary scene. Sometimes I prefer Rosenstock, sometimes Ní Dhomhnaill, each appealing to my particular moods or where I am in life (in fact at the moment I am sick as the proverbial madra but that is an aside).Of course the Anglophone media don’t rate either very highly and for one reason and one reason only: they write in Irish not English. So while the late Séamus Heaney will be rightfully eulogised those who express their art through our island nation’s indigenous tongue will forever be placed at the back of the literary bus. Indeed both receive greater respect and admiration outside of their own country than they have ever done at home. So this is interesting, from Mícheál Ó hAodha in the Irish Times:
“It is common knowledge that Gabriel Rosenstock belongs to the Innti generation of poets, that generation that coalesced around UCC in the early-1970s and who sparked the smouldering embers of a hitherto rural-based Irish language idiom and culture into life, a culture that was like an old dead woman whom a former lover can’t bear to rest his eyes upon in the wake-house. The Irish language was battered and bogged down and had nothing urban or hip about it.
But the Innti generation of Ní Dhomhnaill, Davitt, Rosenstock, Ó Muirthile and co. came along and put a fire beneath it. Like the “Burnings Limbs”(or the “Géaga tré Thine” (2006) – (a title of one of Rosenstock’s poetry collections) and inspired and energized by the tearing down of old barriers and repressions on the broader stage of the world – the burgeoning civil rights movements of Northern Ireland and the USA, the Paris upheavals, the struggles for minority rights among peoples, languages and cultures – the Innti generation created a new and transgressive language, a language of challenge and rebellion, both political and social.
This is all common knowledge. It is well-known amongst the literary cognoscenti of Ireland. Or is it?! The reality is that the Irish language including Irish language poetry is so marginal to this country’s literary circles in the apparently “multicultural” Ireland of today, so peripheral still, that no-one is quite sure what space it occupies – if any.
What might not be so well-known outside to those outside the small world of Irish-language literature is that Gabriel Rosenstock, of the aforementioned Innti generation continued (and continues) writing. This bilingual volume Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso/The Flea Market in Valparaíso (Cló Iar-Chonnacht) is a very comprehensive collection of his “New and Selected Poems” as translated by Paddy Bushe…
Rosenstock and his fellow Irish-language poets are constantly breaking new ground and became interlocutors with the wider poetic worlds of Eastern Europe, the US and Asia long before many of their more staid European contemporaries did. Why is this?
… it is not because they have that ancient “sense of place” that so fascinated the Irish poets of old; it is that the language is their home-place rather than any geographical locale.
This brings with it an enormous freedom. And yet Irish-language poets such as Rosenstock are still an essential element and link in the Gaelic literary tradition. They haven’t abandoned the responsibility that goes with the oldest role of the poet in Irish culture – to act as a balm when people are hurt or damaged by the violence of this world, to celebrate profound sadness and ecstasy or to reflect more deeply on the nature of life and the world.”