Dennis O’Driscoll is dead. I did not know him, but apparently many of my friends did, from the Facebook postings and Twitter chatter. The Guardian praised him as “selfless” and “companionable”:
In an age when poets tend to hover near schools and universities, Dennis O’Driscoll, who has died suddenly aged 58, was an exception. Having become a civil servant in Dublin at the age of 16 (starting with death duties), he remained one for almost 40 years. “In the civil service you are assigned a grade. You know your status,” he told the Irish Times. “Whereas with poetry, you never retire and you never really know your grade – it will be assigned posthumously.”
O’Driscoll had always known he wanted to be a poet, even before he heard a school recitation of Shakespeare‘s “When icicles hang by the wall” and nearly fainted. He was born in Thurles, Co Tipperary, where he was educated by the Christian Brothers. Both of his parents had died by the time he was 20 and he was left in charge of his five siblings. Unsurprisingly, mortality and work would become two of his preoccupations.
I have his Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney on my bookshelf. One of those books I’m saving for a rainy day that never comes – even in a long California winter. “He devoted years to collaborating with me on a book I needed to write but one that, without Dennis as interviewer, might never have got written.”
The elder Irish poet said, “He devoted years to collaborating with me on a book I needed to write but one that, without Dennis as interviewer, might never have got written.” He called O’Driscoll “my hero,” and said of his colleague and friend:
Not only was he constant in his dedication to his own work, he also acted as mentor and sounding board to beginners and established figures alike. Modest to a fault, he would have shrugged off the hero word.Yet there was heroic virtue in the man, in the way he answered the demands of his day job as a civil servant and then devoted what ought to have been free time for his own work to responding to the work of others. He was like Yeats‘s “man of a passionate serving kind”, never self-promoting or seeking the limelight but constantly being sought.
All these ruminations began on a pensive Thursday night, when I ran across O’Driscoll’s Lannan interview with Seamus Heaney, front-loaded with a few minutes of Heaney reading poems. I know, I know … Heaney is the entrée here to O’Driscoll’s postprandial. That’s how it goes when you’ve bagged a Nobel. Somehow I think O’Driscoll wouldn’t mind. As O’Driscoll says in the clip, quoting Mrs. Heaney, “There’s no such thing as a short poetry reading.” He continued, “I’ve held that there’s no such thing as a long Seamus Heaney reading.”
And as for the second clip: Well, you can’t top “The Wolf,” can you? Or get too much of it…