About Bernard O'Donoghue

Bernard O'Donoghue's poetry is marked by a gift for poetic portraiture, sketching characters at moments of emotional intensity. From encounters during his childhood in Ireland, to elegiac recollections of academics and poets in Oxford, O'Donoghue's readers are met by a generous yet understated control of voice. Each portrait delivers a miniature, crafted narrative, encapsulating  through a brief, controlled moment the full emotion of living. At their most potent, O'Donoghue's poems seem to act as epitaphs to well-lived lives, but their achievement for a reader is that they do so without sentimentality, nor by trivialising. Each recollected deed is held up as marvellous.

Born in Cullen, County Cork in 1945, he has lived in Oxford since 1965. His first full-length collection, The Weakness, emerged in 1991 with Chatto & Windus, following on from a trilogy of pamphlets. His second collection, Gunpowder (1995) won the Whitbread Poetry Award. More recently, a selection of his poetry was published by Faber in 2008 and followed by Farmers Cross (2011),which was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. In 2009 he was honoured by the Society of Authors with a Cholmondeley Award.

Until recently, O'Donoghue taught and worked for Oxford University, specialising  in medieval verse and contemporary Irish literature. His reputation as a scholar consolidated in 1995 with his critical work, Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry, described as “excellent” by Ian Sansom in the Guardian. More recently O'Donoghue edited the Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney and has produced a number of translations of medieval works, including Gawain and the Green Knight (2006) and, forthcoming from Faber, Piers Plowman.

All these accolades might seem surprising to a poet as modestly voiced as he is. For the Poetry Archive, O'Donoghue has selected poems from across his career, encompassing one of his first published poems, 'Nel Mezzo del Cammin,' written when he was 35, and the title poem from his most recent book, 'Farmers Cross.'

Of particular delight here for listeners are the introductions O'Donoghue provides for each piece. These are delivered in as gentle a voice as the poems themselves, positioning each intimate poetic moment in a broader cultural and imaginary landscape. From polio outbreaks in Cork in 1956, to the idylls and poverty of Irish farm life, to poems drawn from Dante's Inferno and Virgil's Aeneid, the scope of O'Donoghue's inspiration is encompassing, yet astonishingly precise. Each poem opens  to an emotional intensity, in controlled, yet impeccably natural language.

A political fire runs through the poems, but never lifts into anger. Many of the poems gesture firsly toward inclusive and liberal ethics, capturing stories and moments drawn from Roma and migrant communities, or offering portraits of homosexual and working class figures, intellectual and uneducated. While a number of his poems are firmly set in rural Ireland, others in Oxford, O'Donoghue's elegies are impartial, celebrating a shared humanity and a borderless sense of living in the world.

Bernard O'Donoghue's recording was made on October 16th 2013 at The Soundhouse, London. The producer was Richard Carrington.

Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry

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Farmers Cross

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Selected Poems

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Outliving

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Here Nor There

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Gunpowder

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The Weakness

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On Shakespeare's Sonnets: A Poets' Celebration,...

Prizes

1995 Whitbread Poetry Award Gunpowder

Prize website

2009 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

2011 TS Eliot Prize (shortlist).

Prize website

Recordings

Bernard O'Donoghue Downloads

1The Iron Age Boat at Caumatruish

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2Ter Conatus

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3Westering Home

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4The Day I Outlived My Father

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5O'Reagan The Amateur Anatomist

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6In Millstreet Hospital

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7Alzheimer Fruit

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8A Candle for Dolly Duggan

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9A Nun Takes the Veil

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10Nel Mezzo del Cammin

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11Vanellus Vanellus

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12Munster Final

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13The Nuthatch

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14The State of the Nation

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15Metamorphosis

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16Christmas

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17The Fool in the Graveyard

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18Going Without Saying

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19Aine

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20Vanishing Points

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21History

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22The Definition of Love

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23The Faultline

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24Emigration

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25The Quiet Man

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26Tinkers

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27The Years Midnight

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28The Weakness

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29The Uvular 'r'

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30Crumpsall

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31Bona-Fide Travellers

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32The Cannon

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33Pencil It In

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34Farmers Cross

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35Nechtan

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36Two Fiddlers at Scullys

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37No More Bother to Him

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Books by Bernard O'Donoghue