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Patrick Cotter on Thomas McCarthy

by Patrick Cotter on June 13th, 2010

Thomas McCarthy is one of those rare poets for whom publication, prize-winning and critical approval came early, while he was still in his twenties. He received the Patrick Kavanagh Award when he was barely twenty-four. Publication with Ireland’s premier poetry press of the time, an invitation to participate in the Iowa International Writing Programme and publication abroad quickly followed.

But ultimately the wider world of the 1980s did not have space in its consciousness for Irish poets not embroiled in the Northern Ireland conflict. McCarthy hailed from the serene, sedate fields of Ireland’s southernmost province of Munster and his poetic discourse is primarily one of a serene and sedate sensibility. Extremes of verbal music-making or contortions of form are not the markings of a McCarthy poem. The subject matter varies from the intimacies of family tragedy to the inner workings of a political party, to biographical portraits of writers and others in verse, to rigorous examinations of history and the pathways by which it has led us all to the present.

There is a richness of language to McCarthy’s poetry but rather than stemming from experiment it emerges out of McCarthy’s own vigorous emotional and intellectual engagement with the world. The elegance and sensibleness of his language are organic and integral aspects of his mode of thought – a careful, quiet, contemplative thought flavoured with rich emotional involvement.

All of these qualities are not only evident on the page with McCarthy but also in conversation with him. A McCarthy poetry reading is a riveting experience.

Thomas McCarthy will be reading along with Hassan El Ouazzani (Morocco) at 8pm on Sunday 13 June 2010 in the main auditorium of the Rotterdam City Theatre, in an event about the relationship between poetry and prose.

Patrick Cotter is the editor of the Ireland domain of Poetry International Web.

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