Saturday 17 February 2018

The life and precious times of a working-class hero ...

Poet and author Dermot Bolger has captured the extraordinary amid the ordinary in city life, writes Liam Collins

BOOK LAUNCH: From left, Liam Collins, Dermot Bolger and John Sheahan of the Dubliners, at Dermot’s book launch of his New and Selected Poems “That Which is Suddenly Precious” at The Mansion House
BOOK LAUNCH: From left, Liam Collins, Dermot Bolger and John Sheahan of the Dubliners, at Dermot’s book launch of his New and Selected Poems “That Which is Suddenly Precious” at The Mansion House
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

'Novels are all made up" says Dermot Bolger clutching a copy of That Which is Suddenly Precious, his new and selected poems, "but these are the story of my life."

Bolger has been chronicling that life and the life of those around him since 1980 when he emerged from a housing estate in Finglas, Dublin as a poet, publisher, journalist and original thinker.

His is no lofty world of gilded sunsets but a world of ordinary life and death, like the shocking and sudden passing of his beloved wife Bernie on May 25, 2010.

'I realise I am no longer a man driving home

To the woman he loves with infuriating, passion, tenderness.

I am robbed not only of my future but my life's purpose.

I feel invisible, passing cyclists, four girls chatting in a car.'

His 'New and selected poems', launched on Tuesday night in the Mansion House, Dublin by Theo Dorgan is, Bolger says, "as close as I will come to an autobiography".

Anthony Cronin, an older poet whom he admires and has published, has divided poets into two categories, those inside academia and those outside it, and Bolger falls squarely into the latter.

His poems are about a neighbour who painted the gold leaf on the drum for the Irish Sweeps Draw; about the old man in Baggot Street Hospital who spoke to no-one and who turned out to be the famous Gaelic poet Mairtin O'Direain; about golf, George Best and the builders' shoddy houses and flats.

His observations on Irish life have been mixed with the hard realities of literary life. As founder of Raven Arts Press, he recalls slipping £20 notes to workers in the Smurfit printing works in the dead of night to do a nixer when the supervisors had gone home - someone's novel or book of poetry. "Michael Smurfit was one of our sponsors, he just didn't know it," he says with typical joviality. "We got our books out in all sorts of mysterious ways."

He also recalls the late editor of the Sunday Independent Aengus Fanning ringing him up late on Thursday saying, "we have a very heavy paper on Sunday, can you do us a poem that will lighten the mood" and "how wonderful it was to buy the paper and find your poem on the front page".

He canvassed his many friends in the artistic world on what to choose for this, his collected works, but no two came back with the same answer.

So he put together a volume that reads like the work of the Poet Laureate of modern Ireland, a phantom position we do not have.

Friends and colleagues, Theo Dorgan, John Sheehan formerly of the Dubliners, now setting off on a career with New Triangle, RTE producer Kevin Reynolds, Brendan Lynch, Paul Allen, Peter McDonnell, the barrister Michael O'Higgins, whose own novel Snapshots will be published next week, and other friends and family came along for the launch.

"He gave us the power and magic of his stories and poetry" said Dorgan, reminding us that Dermot Bolger has fused the country culture of families like his who populated the new housing estates springing up around Dublin in the 1950s with the "hidden truths of the city".

That Which Is Suddenly Precious by Dermot Bolger is published by New Island.

Sunday Independent

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