Timothy O’Grady is the author of the prize-winning novel Motherland and co-author with Kenneth Griffith of Curious Journey: An Oral History of Irelands’s Unfinished Revolution.
His most recent work, I Could Read the Sky is a collaboration, in the shape of a lyrical novel, between writer Timothy O’Grady and photographer Steve Pyke. Pyke’s photographs–portraits, still-lifes, and landscapes– enhance the story of an Irish migrant worker who leaves Ireland for the promise of a better life in England. It tells the story of a his coming of age in the middle years of this century. Now at its end, he finds himself alone, struggling to make sense of a life of dislocation and loss. He remembers his childhood in the west of Ireland and his decades of bewildered exile in the factories, potato fields and on the building sites of England. He is haunted by the faces of the family he left behind, and by the land that is still within him. He remembers the country and the seascapes, the bars and the boxing booths, the music he played and the woman he loved. In the books preface John Berger describes the synergism of the text and images: “The photographs are a reminder of everything which is beyond the power of words. . .And the words recall what can never be made visible in any photograph.”
The threnody of his days is also a succession of pictures and in their counterpoint – vivid, sensuous text and stark, harrowing, sometimes lovely images – I Could Read the Sky becomes a distillation of the experience of Irish emigration.
O’Grady was born and raised in Chicago and has spent many years living in Donegal and Dublin. He currently lives in London.
What I could do. I could mend nets. Thatch a roof
Build stairs. Make a basket from reeds.
Splint the leg of a cow. Cut turf. Build a wall.
Go three rounds with Joe in the ring
Da put up in the barn.
I could dance sets. Read the sky.
Make a barrel for mackerel. Mend roads.
Make a boat. Stuff a saddle. Put a wheel on a cart. Strike a deal.
Make a field. Work the swarth
turner, the flout and the thresher.
I could read the sea. Shoot straight. Make a shoe.
Shear sheep. Remember poems. Set potatoes.
Plough and harrow. Read the wind. Tend bees.
Bind wyndes. Make a coffin. Take a drink.
I could frighten you with stories …
[photo and Text New York State Writers’ Institute]
Listen to Timothy O’Grady on The Parlour Review
NB This is a two part programme with Philip Casey. Timothy’s reading is at 13:00.059. It will take a moment for the audio to load
Timothy O’Grady (&Steve Pyke) at the New York State Writers Institute
Timothy O’Grady at Random House publishers