Echoes of the past from the archives
This year interesting files were in very short supply. One file, in a delivery remarkable short of literary items, was certain to catch the attention of a books editor. A file on Anthony Cronin was devoid of interest so few were the items in it. But expecting the same to be true of one with the name of the poet Des Egan on it, it was a surprise when there arrival at my seat a very fat file indeed.
This opened back in 1982 with the young poet application to the Department of Foreign Affairs, for a grant from the Cultural Relations Committee to fund the cost in part of his visit to the US for a series of poetry readings.
At this date Des Egan was an established, but hardly well known writer and small press publisher – aside from his own work, his Goldsmith Press in association with the redoubtable Dr Peter Kavanagh, published some of the late Patrick Kavanagh’s later work.
However, on this trip Egan learned through Prof. Carroll F. Terrell (an eminent expert on Ezra Pound) that he had been awarded the annual prize of the National Poetry Foundation run from the University of Maine. At a stroke his position in North America, and among the international poetry elite was transformed.
Later items deals with other applications he made for always small grants – we are talking here about the likes of £360. But these enabled him to travel to places as far apart and as different as Sicily and Japan.
Today, as the director of the Gerald Manley Hopkins Literary festival every summer, he is able in his turn to invite many foreign poets and critics to Ireland. This is one of the few such festivals devoted to a religious and philosophical poet, certainly the only one in Ireland.
But this files contains within much material that will be of interest to a future biography of the poet, for it contained stuff the likes of which are often hard to find elsewhere – the role of hard cash in the literary life of modern times.
However, at the front of the files is one of those little notices relating to potentially defamatory or otherwise personal items, seemingly from a meeting of the Cultural Relations Committee, have been removed by the archivist dealing with the files. A revelation that the bitter little feuds of Irish literary life still rage.
The Department of Foreign Affairs searched for a critical appreciation of Des Egan but were able to find nothing better than the acidulous item on him from Robert Hogan’s Dictionary of Irish Writers. This was a pity for there were many other critics who had written warmly of Egan’s work, critics both here and abroad.
(I suppose as an associate editor of this work I should deny all responsibility for the entry. My pieces are all signed.)
NA file 2019 /101/ 764.