Gabriel Rosenstock - Too Cool for School April 08 2014
When I was a schoolchild we had various Irish poets and poems in Irish to brush up on, from Máire Mhac an tSaoi to Máirtín Ó Direáin. One of the Irish language poets’ names seemed to hold a bit more panache (a 1970s word associated with perfume you’d give your mother), than the others, that of Gabriel Rosenstock. Just his name seemed a bit more cool, in the days before we really knew that typically Irish names were also cool. Anyway, it turns out he was and remains quite cool. Apart from his huge output as author or translator of 160 books and volumes in Irish and English, he also is renowned as an Irish translator of the work of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and of course The Muppet Show. Unarguably cool credentials if you ask me.
A few years ago Rosenstock self-published his comic detective novel My Head is Missing through Original Writing. It was his debut novel in English. Centred round a Kerry detective agency, it is of course full of anarchic humour and poignant prose. It has some of the things that I discovered as an adult about his writing in Irish; that he can be anarchic and funny in either language. In fact, you may get away with more when writing in Irish. Unfortunately this often has to do with reach, but that can change. Rosenstock just doesn't seem to stop writing or translating books and his contribution to Irish culture cannot be denied.
There’s been a lot of Gabriel Rosenstock around in the last week or two, with the publication of Scéalta ó Oileán an Turtair, a collection of Native American tales, told through Irish, with a nice Irish Times article noting the event. Perhaps without the prolific work of Rosenstock lots of these sort of gems would never make their way into the Irish language.
At the end of March the Times also ran a piece by Micheál Ó hAodha on on the latest bilingual collection of some of Rosenstock’s poetry, old and new. Ó hAodha notes that “Irish-language poets such as Rosenstock are still an essential element and link in the Gaelic literary tradition. They haven’t abandoned the responsibility that goes with the oldest role of the poet in Irish culture – to act as a balm when people are hurt or damaged by the violence of this world, to celebrate profound sadness and ecstasy or to reflect more deeply on the nature of life and the world.” Gabriel Rosenstock’s place in Irish cultural life is well understood by many but perhaps overlooked by some of us in the wider community. As an adult I now realise just how cool he is. I don’t know if he has been deemed a national treasure yet, but if he hasn’t he should be.
My Head is Missing is available to buy in the Original Writing Bookshop.
You can follow Fiona Kenny on Twitter @fionakenny1