Born in 1953, Theo Dorgan is a poet and writer from Cork. He grew up on Redemption Road, near Blackpool, and is married to poet Paula Meehan.
In 2004, Dorgan Jason and the Argonauts premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In 2015 he won the Poetry Now Award for Nine Shiny Minnow, one of many honors received during his career. He is Poet-in-Residence at this year’s Kilkenny Arts Festival.
Ériu and Amergín, his collaboration with composer Colm Mac Con Iomaire, will be premiered at the festival on August 11 and 12. See: kilkennyarts.ie
I started to understand what writing was in elementary school. The wind in the willows really had an impact. Even though we lived 10 minutes from Shandon steeple, there were fields all around our house. I still vividly remember that scene where the mole walks home through the winter fields, I could easily identify with that. I remember having this flash while reading it, when I realized that it was the way the words were used that made me feel like I was there. Take me there is part of the writer’s job.
The other book I liked at the time was Coral Island by RM Ballantyne. They were castaways. They had to organize food, accommodation. They had to figure out how to get along. It was a very poorly written book, but what struck me was that to survive they all had to work together. They were able to survive on very little. Even as a child, I knew we had very little. I am from a family of 15 children. We grew up with an absolute sense of all for one and one for all. You made sure everyone had food on the table, maybe that’s why I identified with the book.
Doris Lessing’s novel The city with four doors is written with sympathy from inside the mind of a broken down person. The book fights the idea that what she is going through is necessarily a bad thing. If, for example, she sees one of her acquaintances as a fox, Lessing allows the reader to think, well, maybe that person is somehow a fox. He has a cool social outlook and he handles that hallucinatory quality with a lot of composure. Below is a powerful feminist story of a woman rebelling against the roles given to her; sort of being told by society that she’s having a nervous breakdown because she doesn’t conform to the accepted idea of what it is to be a woman.
When I was a kid, a poem that never left me was that of Walter de La Mare Listeners. There is a great air of menace: “’Is there anyone there?’ said the Traveller/Knocking at the moonlit door…” It’s full of night and mystery and what is left unsaid. What doesn’t happen is the little that haunts.
There is sorrow and pride in An Spailpin Fanach. There is contempt for the gombeens and contempt for those who have contempt for the poor: “…bodairí na tíre ag tíocht ar a gcapaill/á fhiafraí an bhfuilim hiréalta/’téanam chun siúl, tá an cúrsa fada’-/ siúd siúl ar an spailpin fanach. We had a very strong sense of history growing up. They were the dispossessed who may have had their own lands, and now they are condemned to wander from farm to farm, treated abominably and brutally exploited – most likely by their own people.
As a young adult, a poem that had a big impact was The White Goddess by Robert Graves: “All saints despise her, and all sober men / Ruled by the golden mean of the god Apollo – / In defiance of whom we sailed to find her / In far regions most likely to hold her / That we wanted above all to know,/Sister of Mirage and Echo. Graves had an absolute conviction that poetry is given, or inspired, that what is required of the poet is humility and a willingness to accept that the donation can be given or withdrawn.
I am in the somewhat embarrassing position of saying that one of the poets I most admire happens to be Paula Meehan, my wife. The statue of the Virgin of Granard speaks is one of the great poems of our time. Because much of this resonates in the social and political realms, people fail to see how deep it goes into myth and the extraordinary permanence of the goddess figure. The enduring presence and mystery of female power.
When it comes to music, for me, it’s Bob. Always Bob. I was very amused by the ardor of certain people who opposed his obtaining the Nobel Prize. If Orpheus walked the Earth in our time, he wore the mask of Bob Dylan.
Z is a fictional account of the life and death of a great champion of freedom and democracy in Greece, Grigoris Lambrakis. The film’s haunting music is by Mikis Theodorakis. Lambrakis was a socialist, but he was greatly influenced by the campaign for nuclear disarmament. In the bitter and still vicious aftermath of the Greek Civil War of 1947-48, he attempted to establish a peace movement in Greece. At that time, the CND was perceived as a political enemy by the Americans. The Greek right was in power in the 1960s and was aligned with American interests. During a rally in Athens, Lambrakis was bludgeoned over the head by a right winger – who had been let through the cordons by the police – and killed. I saw it in my twenties, I still remember the power and impact of the film.
Koyaanisqatsi is a documentary about the beauty of the world. It’s purely visual – all images, no commentary, full length, in color, set to loud music. It is a celebration of the power of life. Every moment stays with me. It should be shown in every school in the world to show people why we need to keep this planet. It’s amazing.
My father was one of five men who founded the Na Piarsaigh club in Cork. I was a hopeless pitcher. It was extraordinarily open-minded and relaxed of him that he was never let down by it. I had a back crease going to games on the crossbar of his bike. i have a poem The game in the park where at one point I just ‘leaned back into his arms’ – that’s on the crossbar. What I love about hurling is the passion, the grace, the speed. Hurling is about commitment. One of the first things they taught us when we were kids is, “The deeper in you go, the safer you are.” Don’t back down. There’s a life lesson in that.