We had the good fortune of connecting with Kevin McGrath and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kevin, why did you pursue a creative career?
I think this life of artistry has actually pursued me … there is an imperative if not compulsive quality about this kind of life, for it possesses its own considerable necessity and force and it is that which supplies meaning more than anything else. Producing beautiful works of art is not an end, however, but simply a medium that takes one forward in time and also in consciousness. That is where the real artistry occurs, not in the words on paper but in the awareness, the apprehension of the kosmos and its timeless immediacy. I have supported this practice with a mundane or diurnal life of teaching, working as an academic in a great University. There, being a professional Humanist, one might convey such awareness to others via the action of pedagogy. That is where my material contribution to society and community occurs, in teaching others about how to read and about how poetry functions in our world.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a poet and a scholar: that is, I teach Homeric literature and culture, my researching concerns the great Sanskrit poem Mahabharata, and I am also a practitioner of Poetry. Poetry is my life and has been my way for more than half a century, and in a sense, that is all that I do. I suppose In my work that it is my complete attention to the tradition of poetry rather than to anything personal that marks what I write as particular. I do not have any interest in myself, that is, but only in how one might perfect and renew the tradition of poetic consciousness, how it is that the world is composed of metaphor and how human speech is active within that domain. As a professional poet and scholar what success I might claim derives solely from those who have accompanied me in life: wife, family, friends, and colleagues … especially friends. My friends are those with whom I walk and about whom I always think. Life has not been easy, at all, yet it is only in that struggle with consciousness – an almost athletic endeavour, if you like – that I have perceived resilient meaning. I suppose that one overcomes challenge or difficulty by believing that one’s aim is true. that there is compassion in the universe, and that by refining one’s belief that our mental, moral, and emotional endurance will persist. In all this I have learned to try and understand what I am not; that is all. I hope that my readers will recognize that my work does possess a certain validity, and that it is able to convey others towards an understanding of our brief and fragile human condition.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My best friend would probably be a literary kind of person. So, I would show him or her our great Library and the University campus. I would also take them to my Boathouse, which, for me, is the best place in town; that is where I have rowed and competed from for years. The building is architecturally beautiful and the River is an old companion. Conversation has always been a vital element and vehicle of my life, so I would take this friend to places where we could sit an exchange words: one particular cafe, the river bank, the student House where I am affiliated and its wonderful Senior Common Room. Love of place has been a central passion in my life, as well as love of person, so I would also take this friend – on foot, as I believe that walking is an intrinsic component of friendship – to various places that I love and which are able to transport one to other kinds of experience or emotion. If the days were warm I would accompany my chum to one of the lakes to the west of here where we might swim together, another aspect of good amity. Friendship is like blood in that it sustains our livelihood and all our being, so simply being in the company of a lover or friend is especial, regardless of what one does or where that occurs.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Well …. first of all there is my dear wife, without whom nothing is possible. This is not simply a personal marriage but – for me – a profound condition of the universe. I think that the union of the male and the feminine is a principle of all earthly life. So my wife is simply not an object of beauty, affection, conversation, companionship, and intimacy, but an apprehensive quality of something far greater. Then, there are my wonderful children who have given me so much in life, everything, in fact. Thirdly, there is my University, a place and an institution which I love. My friends and colleagues there, my students, are crucial for both the success and happiness of my days. Although I am a Sanskrit scholar and have spent many years studying the Epic Mahabharata, for me, the most perfect work of art that I know – in all the media, of music, painting, architecture, prose – is the Homeric Iliad. There is nothing, for me, like that poem and as a unique work of art it offers me a totality which I am not able to secure elsewhere.
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