(Thomas) Anthony Kerrigan Kerrigan, (Thomas) Anthony (Vol. 6) - Essay

Kerrigan, (Thomas) Anthony (Vol. 6)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kerrigan, (Thomas) Anthony 1918–

Kerrigan was conceived in Panama, born in Massachusetts, spent his childhood in Cuba, his youth in New England and California, and his adult years in Ireland, Majorca, and the United States. Kerrigan won the National Book Award in 1974 for the first volume of a projected seven-volume edition of The Selected Works of Miguel de Unamuno, and he has edited and translated many important writers, including Jorge Luis Borges. Kerrigan's own beautiful poems have been published in two collections: Espousal in August and At the Front Door of the Atlantic. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)

[At the Front Door of the Atlantic contains] poems of extraordinary texture, bearing influences of Catholic Ireland … and bearing, also, great affinity with surrealist painters: strange and challenging appositions of situation, theme, and emotion.

The word-manipulation is immense; the literary, artistic, religious, architectural and theological associations are innumerable; the humanity is undeniable. Poems like 'Mary Jordan', 'Fluid Woman', 'Miriam', and … 'Druidical' stand with any contemporary verse. I wonder why the book as a whole does not appeal to me more than it does; perhaps the impressions are over-refined, and too infrequently related to the 'minute particular' of spiritual correspondences.

Hugh McKinley, "'Immured in Simplicity'," in The Athens Daily Post, September 7, 1969.

Imagistically, [Kerrigan's] poems are densely rich, like exotic tapestries. The simile is singularly apt, for the colours of things have a great attraction for Mr. Kerrigan, and the poems often contain references to painters and paintings….

I am not sure what conclusion is to be drawn from Mr. Kerrigan's painterly qualities and procedures. Perhaps it is his feeling for the plastic qualities of language, the way in which words can seem to be things in themselves, with colour and shape and texture. Thinking of this brings to mind the poetry of Wallace Stevens and, more relevantly, the fact that Mr. Kerrigan is also a master translator whose versions of Borges' poems, for instance, can stand as great poems in their own right. It is especially the virtue of the translator that he can distance language from himself in order to judge it not in relation to his own personality but to another's; and to use language at this remove can be, and it is for Mr. Kerrigan, to realise its potentialities with heightened awareness of what one is doing.

I have described Mr. Kerrigan as a romantic poet. More accurately, his view of life is metaphysical…. He appears to oppose the flux of life with the metaphysical permanence of the artist's carefully wrought images. But the image must finally draw its sustenance from life, from our experience, and this requires effective and therefore necessary connections between the image and reality—the image, as it were, an outgrowth from the soil of passionate remembrance. Sometimes such connections are lacking in the imagery of Mr. Kerrigan's poetry and it may be that this weakness is derived from the translator's strength already mentioned; for such necessary images allow little leeway for the play of the aesthetic conscious….

Mr. Kerrigan's keenly penetrative and quizzical mind excites and illumes, involves us completely in its comic, contemplative and broodingly religious visions. It is difficult to be more specific. This is the poetry of a profound and complex personality which one glimpses as through shutters, like a lambent fire in a dark wood seem from a passing train….

Michael Smith, "Exotic Tapestries," in The Hibernia, September 12, 1969.

Anthony Kerrigan's new collection of poems [At the Front Door of the Atlantic] should establish him as one of the most adept and authoritative poets of our time. I say "should" rather than "will," for Kerrigan's work makes few concessions to the general, is openly occasional, and uncompromisingly allusive. As one reads through these sensitive, flawlessly balanced and rigorously economical poems, however, the places described, the names encountered, the memories deployed, build up a vivid and coherent picture of a sensibility central to our culture…. The poems are lyrical without being rhetorical, easily constructed without being loose, intellectually alive without being cerebral, and always musical and precise in diction. Mr. Kerrigan cannot be cosily labelled as a member of any school or group; he cannot even be called satirical, or lyrical, or elegiac: he is his own man and his poems are as individual, sharp, clear, and poised as one might ever desire. Moreover, in them all, there is that awareness of the fleetingly numinous which alone, perhaps, separates the real poets from the poetasters and versifiers. (p. 121)

Robin Skelton, in The Malahat Review (copyright © The Malahat Review, 1969), October, 1969.

The voice, the images, the experiences and the concerns in [Kerrigan's] volume, The Front Door of the Atlantic, direct us constantly backward and inward, to things or persons known or seen or sought for…. The verses bristle with personal allusions, foreign words or phrases, images made all the more inscrutable by their concreteness and specificity. (p. 1)

The three sections of this book, Distance, The Zion of Echoing Sound, and Prayer for Relics, demonstrate the difficulties and success of Kerrigan's quest. In the title poem of the first part, the American exile contemplates the assertion of one Jeremiah Stone in his Journal of an Imaginary Voyage to Zion that "The distance between Cape Cod and Joppa is terrible—and after all not so great." And time and time again in the early poems, he forces together, by the subtle presence of some speaker—the exile, the lover, Lear—such geographic, emotional, and intellectual contrasts until they yield their secret, until they reveal more of the self whose experience may resolve the "terrible" into something after all not so great. Thus, the geographic "distances" dealt with here—between Jerusalem and Chicago (Appointment: Just Before Noon), Tara and Locarno, Paris and Normandy (Heresy in Normandy)—are important as they are forced into conjunction by the poet's experience….

Mary Jordan, Miriam, an unidentified Eurasian Girl My Love and the poet's wife, Elaine—identified in an acrostic—become the destinations in the second section, The Zion of Echoing Sound. Many of these poems are love poems of a peculiar sort which both assert the eternal moment between lovers and complain of the assertion's insufficiency. (pp. 2-3)

Part of the meaning of these poems comes from the accretive effect of images and motives…. By … subtle reinforcement of forms and images, the reader is prepared for the largely elegiac Prayer(s) for Relics, which conclude the collection. In these poems, the cadences lengthen a little and become more regular. The specific "relics" An ex-Voto in an old Roman Town, This good Virgin, then … by Crivelli, the worked pine in the room of a friend (Waters of Melis), are the poet's objectives, and their evocations—as with the lovers' moments—are given cautious and restricted faith. Such stable elements of art and religion and love are threatened in these poems by Sony transistors and the new ritual of polishing metal hoods (The Saints' Relics, then) on one hand and by the "heresy" of the formless winds on the other. Kerrigan's awe of this second force grows steadily throughout his collection and it informs most of the poems in the final section. (p. 4)

Kerrigan is not discovering a new thing; he's working over the terrible complexity of having lived and having paid attention to it. And his questions, having the complications of much attention, have become ones which are often both hard and beautiful in their formulation. (p. 5)

Colton Johnson, in Hierophant (copyright 1972 by Thomas Kerrigan), April, 1972.