In my second article featuring poets of Cork, I am looking at the life and career of Theo Dorgan and what he has contributed to Irish literature in his career so far. Theo Dorgan was born in Cork in 1953 and since then has spanned a successful career taking on the roles of a poet, novelist, documentary screenwriter, prose writer, editor, translator and broadcaster. He attended North Monastery School in Cork where he was taught in Irish and left the school with an understanding of the language. He also socialised with poet contemporaries such as Gerry Murphy while in his secondary school years. He then went on to take his place at UCC as an English and Philosophy BA student.
This was a time of a shift in culture in UCC and under the supervision of John Montague and surrounded by other poetic contemporaries who were determined to see literature succeed, Dorgan began to write and publish poetry as an undergraduate student. After succeeding in his undergraduate degree Theo Dorgan went on to study an English MA at UCC and taught within the university after completing his masters. Dorgan’s history with UCC is remembered through his teachings and his connection with the city is remembered in his managing of the literature programme of the Triskel Arts Centre while working at UCC from 1977 – 1979. Dorgan took a notable role in the film industry in 1986 when he became co-director of the Cork Film Festival alongside Mick Hannigan who was co-director at the Triskel Arts Centre that year. Together they transformed the festival and used the opportunity to exhibit short and independent films in big venues such as Cork Opera House. While fulfilling the roles of co-directors, Dorgan and Hannigan made use of this opportunity to make Cork a more welcome place for short film premieres and an attractive venue for filmmakers. These initiatives have helped transform Cork Film Festival into the event that it is today.
At this stage in Theo Dorgan’s career he had reached into multiple forms of communication through literature and in 1989 he was appointed as the Director of Poetry Ireland. In 1990-1991 Theo Dorgan took on the post of assistant director on a film entitled Pages for the Great Book of Ireland. Commissioned by Gandon Productions for RTÉ, this film explored the makings of the Great Book of Ireland. During Dorgan’s tenure as director he published his first poetry collection, The Ordinary House of Love, in 1991. His second and third collections, Rosa Mundi and Sappho’s Daughter followed in quick succession in 1995 and 1998, respectively. Theo Dorgan also worked with RTÉ in the 1990’s and 2000’s, editing and presenting shows on RTÉ Radio 1 such as Irish Poetry Since Kavanagh in 1995 and Imprint, a programme about books that was broadcast on RTÉ television from 1999-2000. Imprint, which was produced by Loopline Film, had the tagline ‘Navigating the World of Books’. Theo Dorgan hosted the show and interviewed a rotating number of people who reviewed books that they had read. In a comment given to the Sunday Independent in 1999 about Imprint from an unnamed source “The poet Theo Dorgan is an ideal interviewer pursuing his subjects like a curious otter, probing when necessary, then withdrawing allowing them to talk.” This comment gives you a sense of what kind of interviewer Dorgan was during his time on Imprint.
Theo Dorgan was appointed to the Aosdána in 1999, an organisation of Irish-based artists founded in 1981 by the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey. The Aosdána aims to honour Irish artists whose work has contributed to the arts in Ireland and encourage them to devote all their energies to their art. Theo Dorgan also spent five years on the Arts Council 2003-2008, which is an agency that partners with artists, art organisations and public policy makers from across the country to develop a central place for the arts within Irish society. In more recent years, Theo Dorgan has been honoured with the O’Shaughnessy Prize for Irish Poetry in 2010 and the Irish Times Poetry Now Prize in 2015. He has published eight collections of poetry, some in collaboration with his contemporaries. His most recent poetry collection, Orpheus was published in 2018 by Dedalus Press.