Previously unpublished writer wins Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award

Cork librarian kept his poetry to himself ‘mainly because I did not think it was up to standard’

John FitzGerald, librarian at University College Cork: winner of the €1,000 poetry award believes “the most important skill is to be critical of one’s own work”.

A librarian whose writing has never appeared in print before today has won the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award. John FitzGerald, university librarian at University College Cork (UCC) was announced as the winner of the prestigious poetry award, now in its 43rd year, at Inniskeen, Co Monaghan, yesterday evening.

FitzGerald (52), a father of four from Lissarda, Co Cork, said the impulse to write hit him “for no other reason than maturing years. But I wasn’t into publishing anything, mainly because I did not think it was up to standard. For me, the most important skill would be to be very critical of one’s own work. What I do is typically put a poem away for a year and then look again critically, and I find I have a much better eye at that stage. In some cases they have been stewing for some years.”

Citing the American poet Elizabeth Bishop as an inspirations, he says: "I like observational poetry that does not rely so much on memory as experiencing the moment. It's difficult to stand back and say I've a particular style; maybe someone else can judge that."

FitzGerald was involved in UCC's acquisition last year of The Great Book of Ireland, a vellum manuscript containing the handwritten work of more than 250 artists, for which it paid $1 million (€752,000).


In contrast, yesterday he picked up a cheque for €1,000, along with the award, presented by fellow poet President Michael D Higgins at the Patrick Kavanagh Centre.

“It is extremely hard to make a living out of poetry,” said FitzGerald, who completed a BA in English and philosophy at UCC in 1983. “So it’s very good to have the day job and to be working in an environment which is hospitable to literature.”

FitzGerald has also been shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award 2015 and has been made a jury member of RTÉ's A Poem for Ireland project, a search for Ireland's best-loved poem.

FitzGerald credits his schooling at De la Salle College in Macroom with igniting his lifelong interest in literature, and pays tribute to “some wonderful teachers, in particular Jim Cooney, Tom Fitzgerald and Mary Coffey”.

Full Coverage by John FitzGerald

Do I really need to know this bright steel
arrowhead passing over now is the
Thomas Cook from Tenerife to Glasgow?

I’m looking at the map my smartphone app
has magicked up: an orange model plane
traces its blue route through familiar
names – Killumney, Rylane, Mashanaglass.

What do they, half-sober, half-awake, think
when they consult their inflight TV screens,
and see this bland green bolt of field and lake?

Does anybody care? Up there, down here,
anywhere? Do we expect to know more
now that we’ve geo-tagged the deep heart’s core?

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column