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Poet Micheal O’Siadhail confronts the timeless and the timely in Visiting Writers Series reading

September 29, 2023

Carolina Weatherall
KISS ME, I'M IRISH: Poet Michael O’Siadhail reads from his work in Massachusetts Hall. O’Siadhail’s poetry is inspired in part by his Irish heritage.

Thursday evening, in the Massachusetts Hall Faculty Room, the Alpha Delta Phi Society’s Visiting Writers Series returned with a reading from acclaimed Irish poet Micheal O’Siadhail. O’Siadhail’s career has spanned multiple decades and explores an even greater number of topics and ideas.

The vast array of personal and public issues O’Siadhail grapples with in his poetry was on full display during his readings of poems on love, loss, Covid-19, climate change and even Mahatma Gandhi.

“It’s always difficult to decide what poems you are going to read,” O’Siadhail said. “It’s a patchwork of putting things together, while at the same time wanting to display your work in general.”

That patchwork began with a series of readings from his upcoming book entitled “Desire.” The selected poems centered around the internet and its impact on society. O’Siadhail’s interest in these issues was partially inspired by another author, Shoshana Zuboff, who wrote the non-fiction book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” and attended last night’s reading.

“[‘Desire’] has a section which deals with the whole question of how our lives are being excessively shaped and spied on by the internet,” O’Siadhail said. “It has the quality of, say, Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring.’”

From there, O’Siadhail’s readings dealt with the pandemic and climate change. O’Siadhail said that confronting Covid is imperative and a major focus of his upcoming book.

“I lived through [the pandemic] in New York [City], which was one of the most affected cities in the world,” O’Siadhail said. “I think we owe it to the millions that died in this country, not to forget it, but to face it. And to remember it and be grateful that we’ve come through.”

O’Siadhail’s commitment to confronting challenging topics is a cornerstone of his writing.

“[Writing] is the hope of being part of the process of change, the process of shaping the future and the process of finding a vision for where we might be headed,” O’Siadhail said.

Audience members found O’Siadhail’s attention to contemporary problems refreshing.

“What surprised me was how masterfully he can meld modern terminology and concepts of modern worlds and [marry] these ideas with a classical style of poetry,” Andrew Mott ’26 said.

O’Siadhail’s focus on modern, public issues is a recurring theme in his work.

“It has been pointed out by people who have written about my work that I seem to almost alternate or move between very personally intense poems and also public poems. I do very much feel that both are absolutely genuine, and both are a necessary part of poetry,” O’Siadhail said.

A blend of the private and the public became obvious as O’Siadhail turned to a series of love poems dedicated to his current wife and his first wife, who died of Parkinson’s disease in 2013.

“I recall somebody telling me when I was very young that I should never write love poems. How could I possibly say anything new? Yes, but it was new for me. And throughout my life, I had to tell the world over and over again,” O’Siadhail said during the reading.

O’Siadhail’s love poems explore his Irish heritage, which interests Professor of English Marilyn Reizbaum, who organized the reading.

In her introduction, Reizbaum noted that O’Siadhail attended Clongowes Wood College, the same boarding school that James Joyce attended, and she praised his ability to carry on the Irish poetic tradition.

O’Siadhail attributes his love of poetry to the country where he was born and spoke briefly about his Irish heritage when answering questions after the reading.

“I grew up in a country of words,” O’Siadhail said.

Tying together his focus on contemporary concerns and timeless concepts such as love is O’Siadhail’s affection for jazz music, which he also explores through poetry.

“Jazz has always been a recurring theme for me throughout my work, and for me, it’s always been a metaphor for an ongoing creation, where we are all involved in some huge improvisation,” O’Siadhail said.

Reflecting on his broad range of poetic themes, O’Siadhail said his aim for the reading was similarly expansive.

“I think it’s an invitation to think deeply about things and to feel deeply about things,” O’Siadhail said. “So, if I had any goal, I [wanted] to move people’s hearts and minds.”


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