Feature Articles

DEDALUS: THE END OF THE BEGINNING by John F Deane & Pat Boran

(PI News, March / April 2005)

I began The Dedalus Press after the demise of the Dolmen Press. I have had, and continue to have, unswerving devotion to and admiration of The Gallery Press but I felt, in 1985, that there was scope and need for a differing outlook. Part of that difference was to be a focus on poetry in translation, then scarcely regarded with any seriousness in this country. There was scope, too, for a new mood in the publishing of poetry and it was the late Lar Cassidy, of the Arts Council, who urged the establishment of a wholly new poetry press. In May of this year, The Dedalus Press will have been in my hands for twenty years. It is time for change.

When I founded Poetry Ireland, I tried to build into it systems for change and adaptation. The editorship of the Poetry Ireland Review would change every few issues, the board would change regularly. Poetry Ireland has remained fresh and invigorating, invigorated too by changes and development. It is my belief that too constant an involvement in the same area of literature and its promotion causes a certain stagnation.

Since its foundation, The Dedalus Press has published many new Irish poets, and helped the careers of some who had published elsewhere. It has also introduced several new voices, and the encouragement and help offered to new poets must always be maintained in any vibrant, developing poetry. Dedalus also re-established the reputation of poets like Denis Devlin and Brian Coffey and the translation series took a lapel out of their jackets. I would guess that some thirty poets from around the world have now been published, in translation, in Ireland. I am not yet satisfied that one of the aims - the urging of Irish poets themselves to translate other poets - has worked sufficiently. Many of the poets I introduced in the ‘Poetry Europe’ series were already friends of mine, from my work in the European Academy of Poetry. Wider horizons need to be discovered in this area, new voices, new territory, new focus. I believe Pat Boran, with his own success as a poet and translator already assured, and with his contacts throughout the literary world and beyond, is the best person to suffer the consequences of my wish for the growth of Dedalus.

A personal cry, at this point. It has become increasingly more difficult to place poetry in bookshops, almost impossible to persuade them to take poetry in translation. I would urge all those interested in poetry in this country to see how it might be feasible to found a dedicated poetry bookshop, anywhere in the country, with online-buying facilities, and with a wide and generous openness to poetry of every kind. Needless to say, I wish Poetry Ireland and The Dedalus Press the most glorious of success. But, you know, I am not going away!
-John F. Deane

Visit http://www.waxwingpoems.com/ for news of John F. Deane’s latest imprint, a small press which will publish a number of titles each year from Irish and international poets.

Since 1990, when the Dedalus Press published my first collection of poems, John F. Deane and I have been friends. Not great friends, mind: I have not yet, for instance, invited him to our home for Christmas dinner. Nor has he, as publishers are meant to do, made me rich and famous beyond my wildest dreams. And yet, over the last fifteen years or so, meeting at Dedalus and other book launches, or chatting about forthcoming publications and readings over the phone, a friendship has developed based on a common interest in and concern for poetry. That poetry is always in trouble may well be true. But it’s hard not to agree that, like the environment, it’s having a particularly rough time of late. Despite the web, e-mail and text messaging, the real energies of contemporary culture seem less and less interested in the written or spoken word. Radio is a dear ally, but television, arguably the broadcast technology of our time, is famously terrified of what it dismisses as ‘talking heads’, terrified of the stillness demanded by the well-chosen word or phrase.
In this kind of climate, poetry publishing seems the ultimate lunacy, the ultimate tilting at windmills with an oversized quill. What made me think there might yet be hope for JFD was his regular threat over recent years to give the whole thing up, to find some poor sucker who might be happy to take Dedalus on, leaving Deane himself free to gaze out the window, as poets will, no longer fearful of the approach of the hunch-backed postman. It took me a long time to realise that I was the one he was preparing to pass the mantle to, like some over-generous uncle at a family gathering. Recent developments in digital media, from the internet to the proliferation of MP3 recorders and players, certainly suggest to me all sorts of new possibilities for poetry, all sorts of opportunities that might run parallel to the activities of a traditional publishing house. The Arts Council, trusting in John F. Deane’s vision (even as he now turns his eyes elsewhere!) has chosen to continue to support Dedalus through this transition, allowing me to continue and honour existing Dedalus titles and arrangements even as I start to look at how Dedalus might reinvent itself in the coming months and years. So Dedalus, from now on, has a new home (and shortly a new web presence at www.dedaluspress.com). But, as Philip Larkin, has it
...solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
-from ‘days’
-Pat Boran

Pat Boran’s most recent collection is As the Hand, the Glove.

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