Brendan Kennelly's Guff is both mouthpiece and mouthed off, Devil's advocate and self critic, everyman and every writer consumed by self-doubt and self-questioning. The book of Guff is about words writing the man. Words drive him into the cave of himself where he questions everything including words that seem to constitute answers and answers that question both questions and answers. Do poets write poems or do poems write poets? And consider the shape of that question-mark, like a snake twisting in its sleep: so twisting, or twisted snakes, lie beside Guff as he tries to sleep in his cave, led now by the words that the snake hisses in his old head. All through his book-length poem Guff hears both the hissing of the words he believes he loves as well as the hissing mysteries of love. Guff is prey to the ruthless continuity of one word leading to another, until these words relax and settle down into what he thinks, or hopes, is "meaning". Like Kennelly's Cromwell, The Book of Judas and Poetry My Arse, Guff is a knockabout Swiftian satire, a mischievous meditation on the human condition.
It's also a powerfully expressive hymn to life with all its flaws, a snaking poem with the movement of a river in its different moods from cold anger to summer warmth for minds and bodies, which asks who or what is a genuinely noble person? Dublin is the backdrop to Guff's jabbering quest, a city where haunted men walk the streets talking to themselves, at times with passion, at times with an air of secrecy or self-accusation, at times as if seeking a friend prepared to listen. Guff is a brother to these strange wanderers. In the poem he becomes at one or at odds with them.
'With considerable honesty and bravery Kennelly enters and becomes others in order to perceive, understand and suffer - always moving, probing and doubting, never willing or able to settle on any one certainty - There is clash and conflict, cruelty and irony, sardonic wit, passion' - Aidan Murphy, Sunday Press. 'His poems shine with the wisdom of somebody who has thought deeply about the paradoxical strangeness and familiarity and wonder of life' - Sister Stanislaus Kennedy. 'He is the people's poet. He spends his life wondering and thinking and daring to think and see differently. He also asks impossible questions and suggests unthinkable answers about the things that really matter. And he refuses to be precious or out of touch with the rest of us - a serious contribution to the nation's mental and spiritual well-being' - Jim Farrelly, Editor-in-Chief, Sunday Tribune.
Brendan Kennelly is one of Ireland's most distinguished and best loved poets, as well as a renowned teacher and cultural commentator. Born in 1936 in Ballylongford, Co. Kerry, he was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin for over 30 years, and retired from teaching in 2005. He has published over 30 books of poetry, including Cromwell, Familiar Strangers: New & Selected Poems 1960-2004, Glimpses, The Man Made of Rain, Martial Art, Now, Poetry My Arse, When Then Is Now, and The Book of Judas (which topped the Irish bestsellers list). All these are available separately from Bloodaxe, the latter shortened to The Little Book of Judas. His latest poetry books from Bloodaxe are Guff (2013), The Essential Brendan Kennelly (2011) and Reservoir Voices (2009).