Harry Clifton (born 1952) is an Irish poet. He was born in Dublin, where he was educated at Blackrock College and University College, Dublin. He has 3 younger brothers and 2 sisters. After graduating, Clifton began an extended period of travel outside of Ireland. Many of his experiences from this time had major influence on his poetry because he believes the true home of the poet is 'not in a place, but in the language itself'. He lectured at a teacher training college in Nigeria In the early 1970s, and has lived in places throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, working as an aid administrator in Thailand for Indo-Chinese refugees in the 1980s. He wrote On the Spine of Italy: A Year in the Abruzzi (Macmillan, 1999), a prose work based on a year he spent in Italy's Abruzzi Mountains. He subsequently lived in Switzerland, England and Germany before settling in Paris for ten years, a period that he recorded in Secular Eden: Paris Notebooks 1994-2004 (Wake Forest University Press, 2007). His poems have been translated into several European languages, with a French translation of selected poems, Le Canto d'Ulysse, published in 1996. He also published a book of stories, Berkeley's Telephone & Other Fictions (Lilliput Press, 2000). He now lives in Dublin with his wife, Irish novelist Deirdre Madden, and teaches at University College Dublin.
He has published ten books of poetry, with work from his first four collections included in The Desert Route: Selected Poems 1973-88, published in 1992 by the Gallery Press in Ireland and Bloodaxe Books in Britain, with a foreword by Derek Mahon. His latest titles are The Winter Sleep of Captain Lemass (2012), The Holding Centre: Selected Poems 1974-2004 (2014), and Portobello Sonnets (2017), all published by Bloodaxe Books in Britain and Ireland, and by Wake Forest University Press in the United States. A new collection, Herod's Dispensations, is scheduled to be published by both publishers in 2019.
Harry Clifton was poet-in-residence at the Frost Place in New Hampshire, an International Fellow at the University of Iowa, and a representative for Ireland at the International Writing Program in Iowa. He has held many teaching positions at universities, including Bremen and Bordeaux in France, and Trinity College and University College, Dublin, in Ireland. In 2008, Clifton won the Irish Times Poetry Now Award for Secular Eden, and was shortlisted for the same award in 2012 for The Winter Sleep of Captain Lemass. He served as the fifth Ireland Professor of Poetry in 2010-2013, and is a member of Aosdána.
In his Foreword to Harry Clifton's first volume of selected poems, The Desert Route (1992), Derek Mahon wrote: 'The poet has taken the world as his province... Quietly, without self-assertion, he [Clifton] has set himself to work in the highest registers. There must be three things in combination, I would suggest, before the poetry can happen: soul, song and formal necessity. Clifton has all three; he has chosen well from his four volumes; and this Selected Poems will place him among the poets who matter'.
Reviewing Secular Eden (2007) in The Irish Times, Fintan O'Toole wrote of Clifton's work: 'His is a universe of aftermaths, hauntings and returns, in which even God...dreams of becoming flesh again', asserting that his book 'captures an Irish voice that is utterly contemporary in its restless movement through time and space'.
Colm Tóibín, also writing in The Irish Times, wrote of The Winter Sleep of Captain Lemass (2012): 'There are moments when you hold your breath... and you sit up in pure delight... there are a number of poems in this book that will be read as long as any poems are read anywhere... The last poem, "Oweniny, Upper Reaches", filled with soft, haunting cadences and strange, ambiguous musings on solitude, memory and the meaning of things, is a masterpiece.'
Commenting on Clifton's work as a whole, C.K. Williams wrote: 'There is so much history in Harry Clifton's poems, so much geography, landscape, cityscape, repeopled precincts of the imagination, so much human drama and comedy; so many people, mythic, unlikely and hauntingly real. And all of it is limned with a masterful formal dexterity and an apparently limitless cultural curiosity.'