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Arts Lives RTÉ One, Tuesday, 10.15pm

Thomas Kinsella: Personal Places

Tuesday 24th March, 2009

"I feel I should be dead, but I've never felt so much alive" remarks the 80 year old poet and translator, smiling.

Thomas Kinsella is fondly remembered by most of us from the school curriculum and the poems Another September and Mirror in February as well as his translation of the epic Irish tale, The Táin, illustrated by Louis le Brocquy.

His early work in the late 1950s and 1960s received much attention in Britain and America as well as Ireland, winning poetry society awards and featuring in the anthologies of the likes of Philip Larkin. The publication of Kinsella's impassioned poem Butcher's Dozen in response to the Widgery Report of the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 lost him, according to himself, '90 per cent of my British audience and it has stayed that way ever since'. This also coincided with Kinsella's work becoming more difficult, and the emergence of the Northern poets, Heaney, Mahon and Longley - gradually saw Kinsella beginning to fade into the background.

In this rare and compelling insight into the world of Thomas Kinsella, he returns to his various Dublins and the source of much of his poetic energy:- 'The Ranch' in Inchicore, Baggot Street, the Dept of Finance, Phoenix Park, Percy Place and Sandycove. He also returns to the house of Another September and Mirror in February in Wexford with writer Colm Toibín and he introduces us to Philadelphia, the city which has been his main home now for almost forty years.

Eleanor Kinsella, his wife and muse for over 50 years, speaks candidly about her husband's uncompromising quest for truth, even when it came to a downturn in their own relationship. I was terribly hurt at Wormwood. I was a private person and I did not want to be exposed'.

His daughter Sara Kinsella talks of studying her father's poetry in school and how she was 'a bit of a celebrity' when the exams came around each year and how she would be asked if her father, 'the only poet alive on the leaving cert course', would come in and talk to the class.

TK Whitaker (Secretary for Finance 1956-69) fondly recalls how he used to bask in the term 'my private secretary, the poet' and regarding Nightwalker, the poem where Kinsella satirises Whitaker's economic plans, Whitaker remarks 'he focussed on much more notable people than me. He had some remarkable things to say about Charles J Haughey, and having said that he didn't expect to have a future career in the public service'.

Also featuring in the programme are poet and critic, Dennis O Driscoll - "Here's a man who put all his energies into the work itself. If you were his agent or PR person, they would say, 'you're doing everything wrong because you are producing work that is often difficult, you're not doing all the readings and things and you have no media profile at all'."....and Dr. Andrew Fitzsimons, author of The Sea of Disappointment: Thomas Kinsella's pursuit of the real, who claims - "Where Joyce is the quintessential Dublin novelist, Kinsella is the quintessential Dublin poet."

Thomas Kinsella
Thomas Kinsella
Thomas Kinsella and his wife, Eleanor
Thomas Kinsella and his wife, Eleanor