John Ennis was born in Westmeath in 1944. A winner of the Listowel Open Poetry Competition eleven times, he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 1975, and the Irish American Cultural Institute Award in 1996. He is head of School of Humanities at Waterford Institute of Technology, and lives in Waterford.
It seems to me that poets might assemble a body of work in two ways, the first casually, with serendipity, so that a poem today may be prompted by a wheelbarrow, next week by a quote from Plato, by television footage of Afganistan the month after that. They have no plan and poetry, as Keats puts it, comes as naturally as leaves to a tree. The second way is that poets plan, or as Yeats said they “seek a theme”. Of course Ennis responds to the contingent, to the music of what happens, but what marks his work out is the depth and range of the themes he has chosen to tackle.
Ennis’s work is also marked by the significance of family elegy, the intense and sympathetic observation of nature, homage to guiding poetic influences and the resonance of biblical analogy; all animating the “prolific tapestry” of his output. To that must be added his inventive interpretation of Greek, Gaelic, Hebrew and even Egyptian myth.
These meditations and visions, narratives themselves, become extensions of mythic force, not mere accommodation or exploitation of what Philip Larkin called “the myth kitty”, as if they were old coins to be polished. What Ennis gives us is newly minted. In particular I am thinking of the vigorous ‘Letter to Connla’, ‘Aengus on Aran’ (not on this site) and the earlier, discursive verse-novella cum Irish road-movie-poem The Burren Days Ennis may be a scholar but his poems reek of earth and blood rather than dusty shelves. Of course there is great gentleness here too, captured in clear lyrical tones. He has made his own rich statement. To return to Yeats: he has not sought his themes in vain.
Night on Hibernia, The Gallery Press, Dublin [now Oldcastle, Co Meath] 1976
Dolmen Hill, The Gallery Press, Dublin,1977
A Drink of Spring, The Gallery Press, Dublin, 1979
The Burren Days, The Gallery Press, Dublin,1985
Arboretum The Dedalus Press, Dublin, 1990
In a Greener Shade, The Dedalus Press, Dublin, 1991
Down in the Deeper Helicon, The Dedalus Press, Dublin,1994
Telling the Bees, The Dedalus Press, Dublin,1995
Selected Poems, The Dedalus Press, Dublin,1996
Tráithníní, The Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2000
Near St Mullins, The Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2002.
Gallery Press page on John Ennis
Biographical note on Munster Literature Centre site
Dedalus Press page on John Ennis