Born June 2nd, 1952
Died March 5th, 2023
The gifted Irish poet and English teacher Maurice Scully has died in Spain aged 71. The Dublin-born poet published more than a dozen collections in a writing career which began in the 1970s. These include Love Poems & Others (Raven Arts Press, 1981), 5 Freedoms of Movement (Etruscan Books, Devon 2001), Sonata (Reality Street Editions, 2006), Doing the Same in English (Dedalus Books, 2008), Play Book (Coracle Press, 2019) and Airs (Shearsman Books, 2022).
He was renowned for his playful, experimental approach to poetry. His long poem, Things that Happen (Shearsman Books, 2020), was deemed to be the most significant early 21st-century Irish contribution to longer poetic forms. It contains some works first published individually at an earlier stage.
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Eric Falci, professor of English at the University of California in Berkeley described it as “the most ambitious and important long poem in modern Irish literature”.
Prof Phillip Coleman at Trinity College Dublin described Scully as “a true original in the world of Irish poetry, quietly and patiently doing things his own way for several decades”. “Scully was one of our most constant watchmen, keeping an eye on and out for the things that most of us don’t notice, late at night or early in the morning, whether we are awake or not,” Prof Coleman said.
“He grew up bilingual and Irish was intrinsic to his style. He was also an omnivorous reader and his poetry was deeply informed by his reading of scientific works”— Poet Billy Mills
After his first collection of lyrical poems, Scully consciously abandoned what he saw as the dominant lyrical tradition of Irish poetry with its emphasis on identity in a postcolonial island, turning instead to the modernist, experimental genre of English language poets in Britain and North America. His naturalistic themes were often interrupted by references to the “spiky demands” of everyday life. “His wife, Mary and their four children, were frequent, though often implicit presences in his work,” wrote Trevor Joyce in The Stinging Fly literary magazine this week.
In an interview for A Line of Tiny Zeros in the Fabric: essays on the poetry of Maurice Scully, edited by Kenneth Keating, Scully said, “I’ve always been a busy writer, never hanging around for ‘inspiration’ but [I’ve] kept the shredder busy too.”
“Writing was his absolute passion. He wrote every day and never had writers’ block,” adds his wife, Mary Scully.
A long-time friend, the Dublin-born, Limerick-based poet Billy Mills, said that Scully’s poetry was rooted in an Irish-language tradition. “He grew up bilingual and Irish was intrinsic to his style. He was also an omnivorous reader and his poetry was deeply informed by his reading of scientific works.”
Maurice Scully was born in Dublin, the youngest of three children of Stanley and Brigid Scully. He spent his childhood between Clare and Dublin. When he was 10, he boarded in an Irish-speaking school in the Ring Gaeltacht in Co Waterford for two years. He completed his secondary school education at Coláiste Mhuire, the Christian Brothers School on Parnell Square, Dublin. Initially keen to become an architect, he repeated his Leaving Certificate in the College of Commerce in Rathmines. While there, his interest in English literature blossomed and he went on to study Irish and English literature at Trinity College Dublin.
[ Maurice Scully, ‘a true original in the world of Irish poetry’, has died ]
During his time at Trinity in the early 1970s, he edited the student literary arts magazine, Icarus. And following his graduation, he edited the annual literary journal the Beau for a few years. Although short-lived, these publications gave prominence to experimental Irish poets and featured work by Irish artists including Michael Mulcahy, Alice Hanratty and Patrick Pye. The Beau also spawned series of talks, performances and readings by actors, architects, painters and musicians as well as poets in the Winding Stair bookshop and cafe overlooking the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin.
Scully was awarded the Macaulay Fellowship in Literature in 1982 and other Arts Council bursaries in literature in 1986 and 1988. In 1987, he ran the avant-garde Coelacanth reading series in which he invited innovative poets from Britain and Ireland such as Tom Raworth and Wendy Mulford to read their work. His talent for friendship meant that he had a wide circle of friends. He was also supportive of other writers.
Through the 1980s, Scully travelled widely in Europe and Africa with his wife and their young children, living in Italy, Greece and Lesotho. Like many others of his generation, he taught English to eke out a living during these rich cultural explorations.
“Wherever I am I tend to let the surrounds seep in and don’t resist with an I-am-of-Ireland filter. I suppose in a sense I’m no nationalist, more a planet-earthist”— Maurice Scully
He also took part in poetry conferences in the UK (for example, the Cambridge Conference of contemporary poetry) and the United States (Assembly Alternatives on avant-garde writing in New Hampshire), where his poetry was perhaps better known and appreciated than in Ireland.
Back in Ireland in the early 1990s, the family settled in Clare for a few years, with occasional forays back to the capital. In 1991 Scully got a job teaching English to mainly Japanese students at Dublin City University, a position he maintained for 13 years.
The Scully family returned to Dublin to set up home in Clontarf in 2000. In 2004, Scully was awarded the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship and in 2009, he was elected into Aosdána, the Government funded honorary scheme which gives an annual living allowance for writers and artists. He and his wife, Mary spent time in Spain in recent years.
In an interview with Island’s Edge Poetry blog in April 2022, he said, “Wherever I am I tend to let the surrounds seep in and don’t resist with an I-am-of-Ireland filter. I suppose in a sense I’m no nationalist, more a planet-earthist.” Scully died in the family’s second home in the village of Bolea in the Aragon region of Spain.
Maurice Scully is survived by his wife, Mary and their children, Leda, Louis, Hazel and Paul. His brother, Brian and sister, Marie predeceased him.