When Michael D Higgins hosted a cultural evening in the Forbidden City in Beijing on his state visit to China in December, he invited Paula Meehan to read six poems from her book Dharmakaya, a collection inspired by The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Translations by Huiyi Bao, a student at University College Dublin, were inserted into the programme. Obliquely, the poems were a cry from the heart of a philosophy under threat.
It’s more than 40 years, and nine books, since Meehan emerged from childhood in the inner city Dublin tenements to give voice to the disenfranchised everywhere, less in anger than with compassion and an intuitive understanding that, through verse, imbued their lives and memories with mythic dignity.
“The work of poetry makes a better fist at arriving at what is human in the world than most things,” Higgins said in 2013. He was announcing Meehan’s appointment as Ireland professor of poetry, a three-year job rotating between Queens University, Trinity and UCD during which, through workshops and readings, she hopes to bring together “the energies of the academy and the energies of the street”.