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The Use of Memory: Michael Coady's All Souls

Eamonn Wall
Affiliation:
University of Missouri-St. Louis
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Summary

Published in 1997, All Souls, Michael Coady's third collection of poetry, was one of that year's best received volumes of new work. It is a rich, varied, eclectic, and inspired compendium that incorporates poetry, story, illustration and memoir to reflect the interlocking and overlapping territories of peoples and places and time and memory across Ireland and America. The work is ambitious in scope, theme, and design, embracing poetic and colloquial voices, the Irish and English languages, the often painful experiences of the Irish diaspora, and the residual experiences of loss felt by those who remained in Ireland. All Souls is also an exploration of the poet's family history, which thematically and emotionally frames the work, and it is shaped, though hardly bordered, by Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, where Coady has lived his own life as writer and teacher, and by the experiences of the emigrant Coadys in the United States. All Souls is a literary work of the highest order, an individual act of recovery of family history and, on a larger level, a representation of the pained mechanics of exile. In modern Irish poetry, the works it most closely resembles are John Montague's The Dead Kingdom and Ciaran Carson's Belfast Confetti, both formally ambitious poetic expressions of history and place though All Souls, in its odyssey of styles, can perhaps be best compared to James Joyce's Ulysses. However, of the Irish poets of his own generation, Coady is thematically closest to Eavan Boland, a writer who, in both her poetry and prose, has made the diaspora a central platform of her work.

Writing of All Souls, Ciaran Carson notes that it “is a compendium of the implications of that family history, written like a symphony.…Few books like All Souls are being written these days, but I would like to think that such a book could only have come out of Ireland: it unites the demotic and the sophisticated; it speaks through the mouths of people, and encompasses all kinds of art. Society and destiny shape us, but we shape them” (30–31). Theo Dorgan writes that “in his new collection Michael Coady stands quietly but firmly before us as a man gifted with true humility, committed to the stringent duties of memory, memorialist to a place and to a people.

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Writing Modern Ireland , pp. 116 - 127
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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