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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

Wake: Up to Poetry

"The act of poetry is a rebel act."

Harry Clifton: An Irishman Abroad

Though poet Harry Clifton is a native Dubliner and currently lives in Ireland, he has spent much of his adult life on the move.  Clifton grew up in Ireland and attended University College Dublin, but left the country when he was twenty-five to teach at a teacher training college in Post-Civil War Nigeria.  From there he moved to East Asia, where he worked for the Irish Civil Service in refugee aid programs in Thailand.  Clifton has also lived in Switzerland, Italy, England, Germany, and France.  The influence of these extensive travels is evident in Clifton’s work as he reflects on his life as an Irishman abroad.

In 1996, Clifton published a collection of French poetry, titled Le Canto d’Ulysse.  After his year-long stay in Italy’s Abruzzi Mountains with his wife, Clifton published a prose collection called On the Spine of Italy: A Year in the Abruzzi.  Though Clifton has spent nearly as much time out of Ireland as he has in it, the poet still feels that his poetry conveys an Irish identity.  Clifton believes that home is “not in a place, but in the language itself.”  In 2010, Clifton was announced as the new Ireland Professor of Poetry.  When he was interviewed about the position by Ireland’s RTE News, Clifton again expressed that though many of his works were written out of Ireland, they still express his Irish voice. Clifton said:

“I happen to think that a poet is a citizen of a language rather than a place. No matter where you travel, your first loyalty as a poet is always to a language – in my case, my mother tongue being the English language. So I would always consider the language first rather than the place or the nationality.”

Be sure to check out Harry Clifton’s latest book The Winter Sleep of Captain Lemass, which will be released in May of this year!

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