Feature Articles

BRINGING AUSTIN CLARKE BACK INTO PRINT by R Dardis Clarke

(Poetry Ireland News, November/ December 2008)

 

In the Dolmen Press edition of Austin Clarke: Collected Poems, editor Liam Millerwrote in the introduction: “The pages of this edition were already going through the press when the news of Austin Clarke’s death came, and so this book which collects all the published poetry of our most important Irish literary figure since Yeats, both defines his poetic work and becomes a memorial to the poet.”

Since then there have been two Selected Poems. The first was published in 1976, again by the Dolmen Press, and was edited with an introduction by Thomas Kinsella. The second was published in 1991 by the Lilliput Press and edited by Hugh Maxton. These contained about 80 poems in the first case and 75 in the second, with 38 in common between the two.

Effectively the work had been out of print since 1974. In 2005 work began to bring the poetry back into print. There is no need to go into the reasons why it took so long. However Michael Schmidt of Carcanet was keen to publish. The condition for co-publishing with the Bridge Press, which was an imprint Clarke used to publish his work in limited editions, was that sponsorship would be sought to assist with the cost of producing the book and keeping the price down.

A list was drawn up: the Arts Council, Michael Flatley, Dublin City Council, The Irish Times, Bord na Móna, RTÉ and UCD. The project did not really fit into any Arts Council scheme, but the Council did after some time come on board and give a grant. Michael Flatley may strike people as an unusual choice, but he was approached because some years ago it was reported that he was building up a collection of books by Irish writers for his new house in Cork. It was thought that he would be interested in bringingClarke’s work back into print. However he was not.

Dublin City Council, through its Arts Officer Jack Gilligan, also agreed. A special contribution was made and Gilligan wrote: “Thank you for giving the City Council the opportunity to be associated with this important publication.”

The Irish Times was approached because Clarke had reviewed for it from 1940 until his death in 1974, apart from a six year hiatus in Sixties when difficulties with the literary editor Terence de Vere White led him to review books for The Irish Press, thanks to Ben Kiely. The Irish Times through Geraldine Kennedy and Gerry Smyth came on board.

Bord na Móna might seem another unusual target but it had been using “The Planter’s Daughter” in its television advertising for the last four years. It proved successful and Bord na Móna responded with enthusiasm and was the first to sign up over lunch with Pat Downes and Justine Maguire.

RTÉ again was an obvious target. Clarke had been broadcasting on the station from 1940 to the mid-Sixties. RTÉ has a motto “RTÉ supporting the Arts”, and with his association with the station it was thought the omens were good. A phone call established to whom any request for assistance should be addressed. On 28 January this year the first of three letters was sent outlining the project. After a letter to Director General Cathal Goan a reply surfaced dated 4 July and advised that: “RTÉ Corporate Events is not in a position to give financial support to your venture at this time; our preference is for sponsorships which involve benefit in kind as opposed to direct financial support and we must be able to satisfy at least one output area with new editorial content.” So much for RTÉ supporting the arts.

And so to UCD. This was the major surprise. Clarke had been an assistant junior lecturer for a time. He got married in the Dublin Registry Office and his appointment at UCD was not renewed. He always believed that this was because of his civic marriage. In recent years UCD was to provide space for the Austin Clarke library which had been bought by Poetry Ireland and loaned to the University. This project seemed to stall so it was thought the chances of UCD coming on board were fairly remote. Then the project for housing the collection was back on track. Next UCD responded and Dr Padraic Conway, Vice-President for University Relations, over lunch revealed that it was prepared to cover everything. Thanks to all the above, and particularly UCD, it has been possible to price the book at £17.95, which should translate into €25.

While editing a book by e-mail is not the best way to do the job there was the discovery of Judith Wilson at Carcanet who proved to be an efficient, diligent and tolerant editor. Thanks to Jane O’Malley for allowing part of a picture by Tony O’Malley to enhance the volume. It was a long, exciting, letter-writing adventure, and we think a successful one, and at that price well worth it.

The Planter’s Daughter
When night stirred at sea
And the fire brought a crowd in,
They say that her beauty
Was music in mouth
And few in the candlelight
Thought her too proud,
For the house of the planter
Is known by the trees.
Men that had seen her
Drank deep and were silent,
The women were speaking
Wherever she went –
As a bell that is rung
Or a wonder told shyly,
And O she was the Sunday
In every Week.

Austin Clarke,
from Pilgrimage (1929)

Austin Clarke: Collected Poems, Carcanet

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