Born in Dublin in 1952 and educated at University College Dublin, Harry Clifton left Ireland in the nineteen seventies to lecture at a teacher training college in post Civil War Nigeria, and later worked in the Far East administering aid programmes for Indo-Chinese refugees in Thailand. He returned to Ireland in 1982.
In 1987 he married the Irish novelist Deirdre Madden and moved to Italy, a time documented in his prose memoir ‘On the Spine of Italy‘. Subsequently they lived in Switzerland, England and Germany, before settling in Paris for ten years. In 2004, he returned to Ireland, and has been teaching at University College Dublin until last year.
His collections of poems include ‘The Desert Route; Selected Poems 1973-1988‘ and ‘Secular Eden; Paris Notebooks 1994-2004‘. His work, which has won numerous awards and distinctions, has been translated into several European languages. He believes the true home of the poet is ‘not in a place, but in the language itself.’
Cloudberry (Click to view)
Mist and blanket bog, where the ice sheets vanished.
But it is here, according to the books,
Cloudberry is to be found –
In a single patch, up the wild Glenelly valley.
I can see you looking at me
As if to say ‘What? In this weather?
Are rosehips reddening haws and deadly nightshade
Not enough for you? Poisons, panaceas
Bursting from the hedges
Of half the country?’
Call it bakeapple, for all I care,
As the Canadians do. Alps and tundras,
Bogs and blasted healths, are its chosen ground.
As for me, I’m tired of life reduced
To a household metaphor….
I want to go back
Just once, behind all that is Ireland,
To the age of free migrations
Where a man sets out, with only a Word in his head
And the needle of a shattered compass
Guiding him, through what is now no more than landscape,
With its huddle of frightened sheep
In driving westerlies, blown bog-cotton
Trembling like beards of a million prophets
Leading their chosen peoples out of exile –
To eat of tasteless fruit
Of universality, rooted
Like myself, in the invisible,
And belonging everywhere.
Fishing Lodge (Click to view)
Oscar Wilde 1854-1900
March, and an east wind blowing
Cold as October. Through the double glaze
Of Illaunroe fishing-lodge
Back they stare at us, our very first selves
Held up to the trembling light of hurricane lamp….
This is no trespass. We are our own ghosts,
Home at last from social crucifixion
Old as Europe. Here the soul once breathed
Its face upon the waters of Lough Fee
Before the cheap hotels, and the dubious immortality –
Paris or Hades….
Now for the real afterlife –
Coming back, like Oscar and Robbie
Down from Oxford on the long summer vac,
Finding it old and shuttered, agelessly out of season,
Ireland a different country, Europe at war,
The dolphins painted once on the hallway arch
Still radiant, the boatslip glittering,
And the art nouveau of a doorway darkened long ago
To flatten ourselves against, with history and sex
Blown over, only innocence left.
The Second Mowing (Click to view)
Occupied with things beyond himself,
A man is making a huge circle. The second mowing
Well under way, the windrows upon windrows,
Black scatterings of crows, ahead of the rotary blades,
Making their own hay. And the narrowing drone
As the centre is approached, unconsciously.
Who will overtake it, him or me?
For a moment the sound is lost. Then back it comes,
The tractor, from the end of the long acre,
Riding its soundwave. I am just a window
In the distance, a winking pane of glass
At the edge of the work, my openings, my closings
Immaterial to the bite of the mighty tyre-treads
Into the terrestrial, as the pattern appears.