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Irish poet tackles difficult subjects in her work

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Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 4:34 am | Updated: 1:51 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS — Irish poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill fully admits that her poems tackle difficult subjects like sex and violence.

“They’re the biggies,” she said by telephone from New York City.

But her work is much more than that. Ní Dhomhnaill’s poetry explores many other themes, including different “worlds” — the rational and instinctual, conscious and subconscious, male and female.

“If I knew where (subconsciousness) was, I would bottle it up,” she said.

Considered one of the most popular poets in the Irish language, Ní Dhomhnaill writes solely in Irish, sometimes referred to as Gaelic. It’s a language that has seen years of oppression. Despite being the official first language of the Republic of Ireland, it is still only spoken in a minority. Ní Dhomhnaill said Alaskans can see similarities with the languages of Alaska Native people.

Ní Dhomhnaill will be reading her poems, first in English then in Irish, Saturday in the Bear Gallery. Since most people don’t speak Irish, the English readings will give people the imagery and language they need to understand the ideas. But Ní Dhomhnaill still wants to share her language and its rhythms as it was originally intended to be heard.

She said some Irish poets are strict when it comes to translations but that she is not. She doesn’t have a problem with people translating her work as long as they include the Irish version with it. She said it’s up to poets to “lay down the law” on how their work is translated but that she writes in Irish for a reason. To not include the Irish version is to not really have the whole version.

“That goes against the whole principle of what I'm doing,” she said.

Ní Dhomhnaill, 59, was born in England to Irish parents but grew up speaking Irish with her parents and moved to Ireland when she was young. She started writing poetry at 15 while attending an Irish boarding school. She was not interested in the boarding part and started writing poetry when she found she couldn’t sleep. She was awarded the Ireland Chair of Poetry and has been a poet-in-residence at Queens University, Belfast, and at Trinity College Dublin. She is currently poet-in-residence at the University of Notre Dame.

Often poetry readings will be a random selection of an author’s work, but that’s not the case with Ní Dhomhnaill. She builds her readings around a narrative. She wasn’t sure what Saturday’s narrative would be earlier this week, but she said it is good way to bring the audience into a reading.

“I like to entertain the audience,” she said.

Contact features writer Suzanna Caldwell at 459-7504.


What: Poetry reading by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Bear Gallery, Alaska Centennial Center for the Arts in Pioneer Park

Information: Contact the Fairbanks Arts Association at 456-6485


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