Thomas Kinsella

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Thomas Kinsella (born May 4, 1928) is an Irish poet, translator, editor and publisher. His work, which is influenced by the modernist tradition, is considered to be amongst the most complex and intellectually demanding Irish poetry of the second half of the 20th century.


  • 1 Early life and work
  • 2 Translations and editing
  • 3 Later poetry
  • 4 Bibliography
    • 4.1 Poetry
    • 4.2 Prose
    • 4.3 Poetry and Prose
    • 4.4 Translation
  • 5 External links

Early life and work

Kinsella was born in Inchicore, Dublin but spent much of his childhood with relatives in rural Ireland. He was educated through the medium of Irish at the Model School, Inchicore, and the Christian Brothers-run O'Connell's School. He entered University College Dublin in 1946, initially to study science. After a few terms in college, he took up a post in the Irish Civil Service and continued his university studies at night, having switched to humanities.

His first poems were published in the university magazine The National Student and in Poetry Ireland. His first pamphlet, The Starlight Eye (1952), was published by Liam Miller's Dolmen Press, as was Poems (1956), his first book-length publication. These were followed by Another September (1958), Moralities (1960), Downstream (1962), Wormwood (1966), and the long poem Nightwalker (1967).

Marked as it was by the influence of W.H. Auden and dealing with a primarily urban landscape and with questions of romantic love, Kinsella's early work marked him out as distinct from the mainstream of Irish poetry in the 1950s and 1960s, which tended to be dominated by the example of Patrick Kavanagh.

Translations and editing

At Miller's suggestion, Kinsella turned his attention to the translation of early Irish texts. He produced versions of Longes Mac Unsnig and The Breastplate of St Patrick in 1954 and of Thirty-Three Triads in 1955. His most significant work in this area was collected in two important volumes. The first of these was The Táin, (Dolmen 1969 and Oxford 1970), a handsome and vigorous version of the Táin Bó Cúailnge illustrated by Louis le Brocquy.

The second, later, major work of translation was an anthology of Irish poetry An Duanaire: 1600-1900, Poems of the Dispossessed (1981), translated by Kinsella and edited by Seán Ó Tuama. He also edited Austin Clarke's Selected Poems and Collected Poems (both 1974) for Dolmen and The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1986).

Later poetry

In 1965, Kinsella left the Civil Service to become writer in residence at Southern Illinois University, and in 1970 he became a professor of English at Temple University. While at Temple U he developed a program for students to study in Ireland called "the Irish Experience" which influenced hundreds of Irish Americans to study Irish history, literature and language.

In 1972, he started Peppercanister Press to publish his own work. The first Peppercanister production was Butcher's Dozen, a satirical response to the Widgery Tribunal into the events of Bloody Sunday. This poem drew on the aisling tradition and specifically on Brian Merriman's Cúirt An Mheán Óiche. Kinsella's interest in the publishing process dates back at least as far as helping set the type for The Starlight Eye twenty years earlier.

In the Peppercanister poems, Kinsella's work ceases to be Audenesque and becomes more clearly influenced by American modernism, particularly the poetry of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Robert Lowell. In addition, the poetry starts to focus more on the individual psyche as seen through the work of Carl Jung. These tendencies first appear in the poems of Notes from the Land of the Dead (1973) and One (1974).

In the 1980s, books like Her Vertical Smile (1985) Out of Ireland (1987) and St Catherine's Clock (1987) marked a move away from the personal to a poetry including historical trends. This move continued into a sometimes darkly satirical focus on more a contemporary landscape through the late 1980s and 1990s in such books as One Fond Embrace (1988), Personal Places (1990), Poems From Centre City (1990) and The Pen Shop (1996). His Collected Poems appeared in 1996 and again in an updated edition in 2001.



  • Poems (Dublin, The Dolmen Press, 1956);
  • Another September (Dolmen, 1958);
  • "Poems & Translations" (New York: Atheneum, 1961);
  • Downstream (Dolmen, 1962);
  • "The Clergyman" [Anonymously pbd.] (Dublin: St Sepulchre's Press, 1965);
  • "Tear" (Cambridge, MA: Pym-Randall Press, 1969);
  • Nightwalker and Other Poems (Dolmen, Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 1968; New York, Knopf, 1969);
  • "Ely Place" (Dublin: Tara Telephone Publications/ St Sepulchre's Press, 1972);
  • Butcher's Dozen (Dublin, Peppercanister, 1972);
  • The Good Fight (Peppercanister 1973);
  • Notes from the Dead and Other Poems (Knopf, 1973);
  • Fifteen Dead (Dolmen, Peppercanister, 1979);
  • One and Other Poems (Dolmen, Oxford University Press, 1979);
  • Peppercanister Poems 1972-1978 (Dolmen 1979; Winston Salem NC, Wake Forest University Press, 1979);
  • "One Fond Embrace" (Deerfield, MA: Deerfield Press, 1981);
  • St Catherine's Clock (Oxford University Press, 1987);
  • "Blood & Family" (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988);
  • Poems From City Centre (Oxford University Press, 1990);
  • Madonna and Other Poems (Peppercanister, 1991);
  • Open Court (Peppercanister, 1991);
  • The Pen Shop (Peppercanister, 1997);
  • The Familiar (Peppercanister, 1999);
  • Godhead (Peppercanister, 1999);
  • Citizen of the World (Peppercanister, 2000);
  • Littlebody (Peppercanister, 2000);
  • Collected Poems 1956-2001 (Oxford University Press, 2001);
  • Marginal Economy (Peppercanister, 2006);
  • Collected Poems 1956-2001 (Wake Forest University Press, 2006);
  • Belief and Unbelief (Peppercanister, 2007);
  • Man of War (Peppercanister, 2007);
  • Selected Poems (Carnanet Press, 2007).


  • The Dual Tradition: An Essay on Poetry and Politics in Ireland (Carcanet, 1995);
  • Readings in Poetry (Peppercanister, 2006).

Poetry and Prose

  • A Dublin Documentary (O'Brien Press, 2007). (Selected poems with photographs and author's commentary)


  • An Táin Bó Cuailgne, which he published as The Táin, with illustrations by Louis le Brocquy (Dolmen, 1969);
  • An Duanaire - Poems of the Dispossessed, an anthology of Gaelic poems edited by Sean ó Tuama (Dolmen, 1981).
  • Two poems
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