Poet and writer prized on world stage

Sat, Jan 28, 2012, 00:00

BASIL PAYNE:BASIL PAYNE, who has died aged 88, was a poet and playwright. He was a regular contributor to The Irish Timesin the 1960s, writing book reviews and radio and television criticism as well as providing poems and leaders. He also contributed to Envoy, Studiesand Hiberniaand translated poetry from the original French and German.

His solo presentation Be Free With Mepremiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 1984, and his solo recital Songs of Lovewas presented at the National Concert Hall in Dublin in 1989.

Published poetry collections included Sunlight on a Square(1961), Love in the Afternoon(1971), Another Kind of Optimism(1974) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Revenant Visionary(1984).

Born in 1923, he was a third-generation Dubliner, the youngest child of Michael Payne and his wife Anne (née Hanvey). His father had strong Anglo-Irish loyalties while his mother was from a nationalist background. He was educated at Synge Street CBS and UCD, from where he graduated with an honours arts degree. He worked in the insurance business, and in 1971 resigned from a senior management position with the VHI to devote himself to writing and lecturing.

In 1956, he entered a competition for best epitaph run by Quidnunc of An Irishman’s Diary in The Irish Times.His epitaph for the Tomb of the Unknown Gurrier, as the Bowl of Light on O’Connell Bridge became known, ran:

“The City Fathers’ grim myopia

confines me to this non-U-topia;

to reinforce their sentiment

They buried me in thick cement.”

His more serious work began to attract attention, and following the publication of his first collection in 1961 he won the Guinness international poetry competition for his poem Enemiesin 1964.

Reviewing Another Kind of Optimism, Anthony Glavin was struck by Payne’s “simplicity, compassion and . . . touch of the comically serious that Auden would have approved”.

He wrote plays and dramatic poems for Raidió Éireann, and also presented programmes on poetry. He was not an admirer of WB Yeats’s poetry, but thought highly of Patrick Kavanagh whom he described as “that rare thing, a good religious poet”.

Stage presentations included In Dublin’s Quare City(1973) and My Dublin, My America(1975), both at the Peacock in Dublin, and in 1980 his Tale of Five Citieswas staged at the Mansion House as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. He spent several years as a lecturer in English literature at colleges in the US, including Rutgers University and the University of California.

He won the Guinness poetry prize for a second time in 1966 and in 1975 he received the governor of New Jersey’s special citation for a unique contribution to the arts following a stint as writer in residence at Glassboro State College.

The Arts Council awarded him several bursaries.

Predeceased by his wife Monessa (née Keating), he is survived by his daughter Lucy and sons Cyprian, Norbert, Gregory, Bernard, Michael and Christopher.


Basil Payne: born June 23rd, 1923; died January 6th, 2012