Brendan Kennelly's Literary Works: The Developing Art of an Irish Writer, 1959-2000

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This book provides a comprehensive overview of the work of one of Ireland’s most prominent yet also critically neglected writers, Brendan Kennelly. While covering his output from 1959 onwards, the chosen approach is systematic rather than chronological. Shedding light on Kennelly’s poems, novels, and plays from different angles – “History and Politics”, “Spaces/Places: Country, City, Nature”, “Religion and Ethics” as well as “Gender and Sexuality” – Kennelly’s development is traced from his neo-Romanticist beginnings to a critical and highly provocative postmodern stance, above all in the later long poems: Cromwell, The Book of Judas, and Poetry My Arse. While this study is certainly valuable as an introduction for the general reader, combining in-depth analyses of the most important works with general contextual information, the embedding of these analyses within a larger theoretical framework (including deconstruction, postcolonial theory, or gender studies) will also challenge the more experienced Kennellyan. Brendan Kennelly is a painstaking critic of today’s complacencies, inhibitions and violence, a scrupulous analyst of society, and an uncompromising reader of the past who, nevertheless, remains self-critical throughout.


“Only within the past few years, has academia begun to recognize Brendan Kennelly not only as one of the most popular, but also as one of the most innovative and intellectually challenging writers which contemporary Ireland has to offer. He is of course mainly known as a poet, especially in terms of his long and impressive sequences Cromwell and The Book of Judas. Yet, besides this, he is also a novelist, and his versions of Greek and Spanish drama have been staged very successfully. Gerold Sedlmayr’s comprehensive and enlightening study, succeeds in doing justice to an author whose prolific output since 1959 is indeed very hard to compress into any overall scheme. Therefore, Sedlmayr scrutinizes Kennelly’s work by shedding light on it from various vantage points, namely history and politics, “place”, religion and ethics, as well as gender and sexuality, in order to present an overview that is as varied as possible. To avoid eclecticism, the issues of language, poetics, and identity function as guiding threads, carefully pointing out the direction of argumentation. At all times, Sedlmayr’s interpretations are supported by a solid foundation of recent cultural theories, ranging from postcolonial theory via deconstruction to gender studies. This is done, not for the sake of theorizing per se, but to confirm literature’s standing as an expressive part of a lived and living culture. For Kennelly, after all, literature must not be a cut-off sovereign domain, rather does he intend it to reach out, to be understandable without being naïve. Above all poetry, often dismissed as a monological art, is meant to be a space of dialogue, a site for many voices to express themselves. This belief has become clearer and clearer throughout Kennelly’s career. Sedlmayr attempts to trace the various steps of Kennelly’s underlying poetic development, with respect to the various aspects mentioned above and always by supplying a wider contextual framework. I am sure, by the end of this book, that the reader will have gained a comprehensive understanding of Kennelly’s literary works, which, in all their breadth and wit, should be read as an enunciation of the becoming of Ireland in the second half of the 20th century. – (from the Commendatory Preface) Dr. Eugene O’Brien, Series Editor, Head of Department of English, Language and Literature, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick Ireland

“In many respects Kennelly is a poetical force to be reckoned with, a writer almost on a level with Seamus Heaney. It is Sedlmayr’s merit to brilliantly investigate Kennelly’s often very long (cycles of) poems which deal with many aspects of Irish history, culture, mentality and identity. Sedlmayr’s study is well-informed, profound and absolutely convincing, dealing with all important aspects of Kennelly’s works and coming up to the highest expectations. It is a book which combines literary and cultural studies in a brilliant way and might serve as a model for similar analyses.” – Prof. Dr. Bernd Lenz, Universität Passau

“This is an outstanding study, not merely on Kennelly’s large and complex oeuvre but also on seminal issues of Irish culture from the 17th to the 20th century. The author is well-versed in philosophical and postmodern discourses which are never employed for their own sake.but are always used to shed light on hidden aspects of Kennelly’s poetic vision which encompasses social, historical, political and engendered contexts. The book is a major contribution on contemporary Irish writing and it offers a concluding answer to the question of Kennelly’s position within Ireland’s literature.” – Professor Dr. Jürgen Kamm, Universität Passau

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
2 History and Politics
3 Spaces/Places: Country, City, Nature
4 Religion and Ethics
5 Gender and Sexuality
6 Conclusion: Language, Poetology, Identity

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