Awake in America

On Irish American Poetry

Daniel Tobin

As the first comprehensive study of Irish American poetry ever published, Awake in America seeks to establish a conversation between Irish and Irish American literature that challenges many of the long-accepted boundaries between the two. In this distinctive book, Daniel Tobin presents a series of essays that combine poetry and literary criticism to form what he calls the poet’s essay.

The first section of Awake in America reconsiders the dual tradition of Irish poetry through discussions of nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets as well as contemporary writers. The second section features a series of shorter chapters on poets in America. The third section explores the theme of “Crossings” and includes a consideration of Irish American and African American literature. The fourth, and final, section is comprised of a compositional memoir in which Tobin explores the role of hidden history in his own long poem, The Narrows.

Awake in America offers an innovative reading of literary tradition in light of the routes by which tradition evolves as well as the roots from which tradition originates. It will be welcomed by poetry aficionados and by all scholars and readers of Irish and Irish American literature.

Daniel Tobin is professor and interim dean of the School of Arts at Emerson College.

“Daniel Tobin’s remarkable range of literary and historical reference and his ability to convey his own sense of excitement to the reader make him a marvelous ambassador for poetry. This is a man who weaves webs of words with a magical touch—a bravura performance.” — Joseph Lee, New York University

“These essays usefully identify a tradition of twentieth-century Atlantic Irish writing in both Irish literature and American. Tobin’s commentaries will appeal both to the general reader interested in the ‘stuff’ (if not the craft) of poetry and to the academic reader who has an interest in American literature, Irish studies, and the conundra of hyphenate or hybrid subcultures. Tobin has already established the canon of poetry in that literature with The Book of Irish American Poetry. Awake in America promises to be a useful and popular companion to that book.” — Thomas Dillon Redshaw, University of St. Thomas

“This incisive and moving critique of poetry and tradition pushes the frontiers of Irish studies, limning Irish American culture through its poets—O’Reilly, Ridge, Moore, Stevens, Coffey, Bogan, McGrath, Liddy, Montague, Wall, Grennan, Delanty, Agee, Donaghy, Tobin himself, and many others. Awake in America trumps the many facile takes on Irish America, revealing its cultural poetics of self-exclusion, solidarity politics, linguistic hybridity, and indelible (be)longings. Tobin’s insights will challenge scholars and readers to survey a new country of Irishness, at once inner, ardent, and textual.” — Joseph Lennon, Villanova University

“Daniel Tobin’s Awake in America: On Irish American Poetry is a comprehensive and excellently written examination of exchanges between Irish and Irish American poets from John Boyle O’Reilly in the 1870s to a galaxy of contemporary literary artists. He emphasizes the doubleness of Irish poetic vision resulting from a replacement of Irish with English, ‘the grafted tongue’ of John Montague’s description. Tobin finds that Irish American poets born and resident in this country, those here from Ireland, and American natives who have found a place and perspective in Ireland also have double vision, Irish and American. As a multiple-prize winning poet, Tobin has added an important and necessary dimension to the cultural history of Irish America.” — Lawrence J. McCaffrey, Loyola University of Chicago


“Poet, archivist, and literary historian Tobin expands the field of Irish American poetry beyond the usual canon (Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, Heaney). Writing in a leisurely style . . . the author treats his readers like sympathetic friends. He not only regales the reader with discussions of writers hardly heard of, like John Boyle O’Reilly and Lola Ridge, but also shows the Irishness of American poets whose Celtic roots typically go unmentioned—for example, Robinson Jeffers, Marianne Moore, and Wallace Stevens.” — Choice

“Tobin’s careful meditation on Irish, Irish American, and American poetry is persuasive and pertinent precisely because the study has roots in learned enquiry and personal experience; as familiar with Wexford and Dublin as he is with Brooklyn and Boston, the author scans Irish and American poetry with precision and flair. This thought-provoking fusion of exegesis and reverie offers a particularly useful and enlivening frame of reference which Tobin uses to examine specifically Irish American senses of liberating doubleness, transatlanticism, roots/routes, and historical memory. . . . it is not only destined to become the pre-eminent study of Irish American poetry, but is set to make a vital contribution to Irish Studies and Irish American Studies as well.” — Modern Language Review

“Daniel Tobin’s earlier book from the University of Notre Dame Press, the magisterial anthology The Book of Irish-American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (2007), set out what amounts to a canon for a previously unacknowledged literature. Awake in America builds on that achievement. The earlier volume made it possible to identify a tradition suitable for study, even if pinning down the habitat of that tradition remains a challenge. Irish-American poets often seem to live in both places, or in no place, or to pinball between their transatlantic identities. . . . The inventive essays of Awake in America: On Irish American Poetry begin the study of this elusive tradition in earnest. Any future writing on the topic will have to reckon with Tobin’s book. . . .” — Irish Literary Supplement

”. . . This book is significant in its aims to unravel the complexities of Irish, American and Irish American identity—and to trace some of the ways in which these complexities reveal themselves in verse. Tobin’s vast knowledge of the field comes through particularly in his close readings, where he is able to trace lines of influence throughout Irish and American history and back again: and these open up new areas of scrutiny and investigation that will excite scholars of Irish American literature.” — Irish Studies Review