(Thomas) Anthony Kerrigan Essay - Critical Essays (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kerrigan, (Thomas) Anthony (Vol. 4)

Kerrigan, (Thomas) Anthony 1918–

Kerrigan is an American-born poet and translator now living on Mallorca. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)

Kerrigan is the moment's epicure, therefore its elegiast….

Kerrigan's views are seldom tentative: praiser of the moment, he also makes his mind up about it, and has a critical, passionate bias to pin it to. Making up your mind is risky though; may be damned for every error, and in poetizing the risk is greater than it would be in the moral-religious sphere simply because (if one is not rhapsodizing or improvising) one has the time to reseize the moment, many moments, and make something of them—a poem if possible, an epitome of the self. Judgment is most severe, severer than the fantasies of religious practice, in my opinion, unless you are the karmic ribbon clerk computing every ell of error, or the Grand Sinster of Sinai whose votaries keep tabs on every nanosecond of vagary. Kerrigan's poetry therefore relies on the perceptions of a mind that has studied the real places out there, the scenes we should enjoy if we came to stand where in memory he stands. Dublin, Chicago, Barcelona, Paris, the galleries of the early twentieth-century painters, whose forms he sometimes contemplates by translating their essential ideas of structure into attitudes about people or music or building—but always arriving at something that he can say very succinctly. And his mind also reveals itself, not as an intellectualizing apparatus, of which there is a great surplusage these days, but as the thinking portion of a singular person.

Kerrigan's complex responses reflect a world measured, understood, and largely relinquished to its own chaos of unimportance in favor of a few, but discriminating choices: the woman, in whole or in part: her hair, her eyes, a breast, a thigh; the wind in a certain place; the light in Muslim North Africa; streets built in other times, a quiet square in Dublin….

[At the Front Door of the Atlantic is] a bagful of lyrics made like Arp's or Miro's objects out of such natural jetsam as is both ancient yet brand-new, held in the knowing hand and turned to be seen by the canny eye in such ways as to render it presently mysterious, yet also plain enough indeed to the delighted inspection….

Kerrigan has taken for his flight kit fossilized relics from those places in the old world that still recall manly and womanly human ceremony, fringe civilizations, Irish, Spanish, Greek. Still, someone has to stand for something somewhere. And stand firmly, if modestly, without the adolescent feverishness over the poetic of, say, some of the later, wordy James Dickey. There poems, densely wrought and distilled from thought, are a prelude to the silence that is also the form of poetry; not speechlessness, but the thinking presence of a man who knows how to wait and work, and to make poems that have to be read again….

Jascha Kessler, in Parnassus, Fall/Winter, 1973, pp. 223, 225-27.