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Acclaimed poet latest guest to reveal Life Story

14 November 2011

John Montague, one of Ireland’s best-known contemporary poets, is the latest guest of the University of Ulster’s popular Life Stories series of events.

On Tuesday November 22 at 8pm, the award-winning poet and author will be in conversation with Professor Paul Moore, Head of Creative Arts, in The Great Hall on the Magee campus.

This latest University of Ulster exclusive, which is free and open to everyone, will be an opportunity for poetry and literature fans to hear a first-person account of John Montague’s fascinating life which includes being a neighbour of Brendan Behan in Dublin, and a drinking pal of Samuel Beckett in Paris during the 1950s and 1960s.

Montague was also the co-founder of Claddagh Records, which in the mid-1960s, signed traditional Irish music group, The Chieftains. The band got their name from Montague’s 1964 book, Death of a Chieftain.

The Life Stories audience will also hear what inspires his poetry, which charts boyhood, schooldays, love and relationships. Family and personal history and Ireland’s history are also prominent themes in his poetry.

Born of Irish parents in Brooklyn, New York, John Montague returned to Ireland at the age of four and was raised by his two aunts in Garvaghey, Co Tyrone. He was educated at St Patrick’s College, Armagh, University College, Dublin, Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley, USA.

His first book of poems, Forms of Exile, was published in 1958. Since then he has amassed a substantial body of poetry and prose. His major publications include: The Rough Field, which was performed with music by The Chieftains at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin, The Great Cloak, The Dead Kingdom, Mount Eagle and Smashing The Piano.

His Collected Poems appeared in 1995, followed by Selected Poems in 2000. He has also published several collections of short stories.

His autobiographical novella, The Lost Notebook, based on his youthful years in Florence, won the first Hughes Award in 1987. In 2000, he wrote a memoir, Company. His most recent collection of poetry, Speech Lessons, was published in July 2011.

He has taught at University College, Dublin, University College, Cork, the Sorbonne in Paris and at several American universities. He became president of Poetry Ireland in 1979.

Awards include: the prestigious Marten Toonder Award (1977), a Guggenheim fellowship (1980) and the Ireland Fund Literary Award (1995).

In 1998, he became the first Ireland Professor of Poetry and in 2010, the French State honoured him as a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.

The University of Ulster awarded John Montague the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) in June 2009 for services to poetry.

Says John:

“I was delighted to be made an Honorary Doctor of the University of Ulster. And I am further pleased by the opportunity the university has afforded me to express my feelings through telling my ‘Life Story’.”

Tim Kerr, University of Ulster Development Manager (Arts and Culture) says:

“We are thrilled that John Montague will be the next of our distinguished honorary graduates to take part in the Life Stories series.

“The one-to-one setting of these ‘in conversation’ events creates a warm intimacy that helps to draw out the interviewee’s personality and inner thoughts.

“John Montague’s upbringing and education shared between Ireland and the USA, followed by his life in Paris and his spell in academia, amidst his celebrated writing from the 1950s to the present, offer a wealth of fascination.

“We are eagerly looking forward to learning more about one of our great contemporary literary figures during what will no doubt be an entertaining evening.”

John Montague in conversation with Paul Moore takes place on Tuesday, November 22, in the Great Hall on the University of Ulster’s Magee campus, at 8pm. Admission is FREE and everyone is welcome, but reservations are required. To reserve a seat call: 028 71675456.