- An Interview with Maurice Scully
Maurice Scully is an Irish poet who eyes Irish poetry skeptically. His exploratory, experimental works take an international, Poundian tradition and reshape it to reveal the pattern of an ordinary life in the striking language of a poet seeking a new form in which to represent the contemporary world. The official history of Irish poetry in the twentieth century has been one of verse written in the form of the personal lyric dwelling on the complex dynamics of identity on a postcolonial island. Outside of this canonical line, however, a small handful of poets have found inspiration in the modernist experiments of their predecessors in English-language poetry. Eschewing the self-contained poem, Scully’s work is marked by its unfurling length over multiple volumes published by small presses and the threading-through of rhythmic motifs and of the structure that mundane activity gives to life. This large project is titled Things That Happen and comprises four books: 5 Freedoms of Movement (Galloping Dog Press, 1987; rev. ed. Etruscan Books, 2001); Livelihood (Wild Honey Press, 2004), which contains five smaller volumes first published individually during the 1990s; Sonata (Reality Street Editions, 2006); and the concluding volume, Tig (Shearsman Books, 2006). In the years since Scully wound up his capacious project, two volumes of selected poems have made his poetry more widely available: Doing the Same in English (Dedalus, 2008) and A Tour of the Lattice (Veer Books, 2011). Additionally, Scully has recently embarked on new projects, such as the self-contained [End Page 1] books Humming (Shearsman Books, 2009) and Several Dances (forthcoming).
Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1952, Maurice Scully from age ten attended a boarding school in the south of Ireland at which the Irish language was the medium of instruction, and he continued his education with further Gaelic immersion at a Christian Brothers school in Dublin. As he discusses in the interview, this immersive experience heightened his awareness of both English and Irish, and he went on to study both languages at Trinity College Dublin in 1971. There, in 1976, he became engaged with the editing and production of Icarus, the Trinity College poetry magazine, and in later years also edited the Irish literary journals The Beau (with Kevin Kiely) and The Belle. After university, Scully felt an impetus familiar to those from small cities in small countries and spent several years in peripatetic fashion, with the enthusiastic companionship of his wife and young family. Their travels took them to Italy and Africa in the early 1980s, to Leitrim and rural County Clare in Ireland in the late eighties and early nineties, and occasionally back to Dublin, where he ran the avant-garde-oriented Coelacanth reading series in 1987, inviting innovative poets from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to present their work. The poet and his family now live on the north side of Dublin, where they first set up house in 2000. Scully worked as a teacher of English during his travels, and beginning in 1991, he continued in that field as an instructor at Dublin City University, teaching there for thirteen years. He currently works privately with some of the many foreign students learning English in Dublin. Thanks to his recent induction into the Irish artists’ organization Aosdána, he receives the annual support of the Cnuas, which supports artists who have been awarded membership in the honorary society.
While Scully now has a discerning audience for his writing, the 1980s, in particular, were a time when he could find but a small number of readers. After a first book published with Raven Arts Press (Love Poems and Others, 1981), Scully’s work turned away from the lyric: he insisted rather on cutting a new path for his poetry, creating Irish writing in which the nation as a concept rarely figures and avant-garde work that reminds us always of [End Page 2] the material circumstances from which the words emerge. The parts of Things That Happen that were composed during this period of neglect interweave the wonderfully mundane rituals of life with the poet’s self-aware mocking of his exclusion from a...