Biography

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Eamon Grennan was born in Dublin in 1941. He attended a boarding school in a Cistercian monastery. He did his undergraduate studies at University College in Dublin, where he became acquainted with fellow poets Derek Mahon and Eavan Boland. Afterward, he spent one year in Rome before coming to the United States in 1964. He earned his doctoral degree at Harvard. In 1974, he became the Dexter M. Ferry, Jr., Professor of English at Vassar College, and remained in that position until his retirement in 2004.

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Grennan published Wildly for Days, his first collection of poems, in 1983. He has a long and distinguished record of publications and is known for his attention to the lyrical and cerebral qualities of his works. Former U.S. poet laureate Collins has remarked on Grennan’s generous, telluric, and sensual works, which deal openly and compassionately with the complexity of being human.

Grennan has settled in the United States but returns frequently to Ireland. Like his poetry, he shares components of both cultures, often blending American experience with Irish recollection. He twice returned to Ireland for limited periods, in 1977 and 1981. It was in Ireland that he began writing poetry, and he states that Gaelic poetry became a dominant force in his need to produce poems that echo this unique linguistic sound. Grennan embraces his status of alien resident in the United States, stating that he prefers to live at a distance from the land he occupies, as this gives his work an angle that cannot otherwise be achieved.

Biography

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Eamon Grennan was born November 13, 1941, in Dublin, Ireland, the son of Thomas P. (an educational administrator) and Evelyn (Yourell) Grennan and was raised in middle-class suburban Dublin. Grennan’s interest in literature was first awakened by a young teacher named Gus Martin, at a boarding school run by Cistercian monks that Grennan attended. Martin managed to communicate to the adolescent Grennan his own enthusiasm for Shakespeare and other writers.

Grennan studied literature at University College, Dublin, where, as Grennan later wrote, he was fortunate to have teachers who nurtured his literary interests. Grennan was awarded a bachelor of arts degree in 1963 and a master of arts degree in 1964. In the late 1960s, Grennan attended graduate school at Harvard University, where he continued to be inspired by what he described in the preface to Facing the Music: Irish Poetry in the Twentieth Century (1999), quoting Edmund Spenser, as “the brightness of brave and glorious words.” He had a particular interest in Shakespeare and wrote his dissertation on Shakespeare’s history plays. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1973. The following year, Grennan became a member of the English faculty at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Grennan went on to become the Dexter M. Ferry Jr. Professor of English at Vassar. He also taught Irish Studies at Villanova University.

In 1972, Grennan married Joan Perkins. They were divorced in 1986. Grennan’s subsequent partner was Rachel Kitzinger, a college teacher. He has three children, Kate, Conor, and Kira.

Grennan’s first three collections of poetry were all published in Ireland: Wildly for Days (1983), What Light There Is (1987), and Twelve Poems, Occasional Works (1988). With the publication in the United States of his fourth collection, What Light There Is and Other Poems (1989), Grennan began to gain a reputation among American as well as Irish readers. This collection was followed by As If It Matters, published in Ireland in 1991 and the United States in 1992, which includes the poem “Station.” So It Goes was published in both countries simultaneously in 1995. Relations: New and Selected Poems followed in 1998.

Grennan received a National Endowment for the Arts award in 1991 and a Guggenheim fellowship in 1995. He won the James Boatwright Poetry Prize from Shenandoah magazine in 1995.

Other publications by Grennan are his translation of Selected Poems of Giacomo Leopardi (Dublin, 1995; Princeton, NJ, 1997). This book won the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Facing the Music is a collection of Grennan’s previously published essays, spanning the years 1977 to 1997. His other works include Selected and New Poems (2000) and Still Life with Waterfall (2002). The latter was awarded the 2003 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, which annually honors the most outstanding book of poems published in the United States.

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Critical Essays