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What the Irish Eyes Saw


Fulbright scholar and visiting Boise State professor Kevin Kiely brings a little of his Irish literary heritage to the Flicks stage in April.

Kiely, who is a biographer, novelist and poet, as well as an academic, said his time in America has been astonishing. He recently visited Harvard University, where he said he "was reduced to total adolescence" because he was allowed to ramble through the archives doing research for a "huge, 170-page project on American poetry." He needed to get in touch with Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike to ask for permission to go through Updike's papers, so Kiely wrote to him. He was surprised not only to be granted access to the documents, but that the permission came from Updike himself in the form of a letter sent care of the university letting Kiely know he could "look at whatever he wanted." It was like that with all of the poets he contacted; most of them offered up their own stories and anecdotes of time spent in Boise.

"I'm coming out of the blue," Kiely said, "and it's a bit endearing that these people are being so open and frank."

Kiely said the idea of a series of lectures came as a result of some prodding from Ellie McKinnon, director of the Osher Institute, part of Boise State's Extended Studies program. The institute offers what they refer to as a "spa for the mind." The concept of education for education's sake moves outside of a paradigm in which exam grades are not the benchmarks for success; exams and tests are not part of the institute's curriculum.

"I'm into her thing because she's doing education without a degree," Kiely said of McKinnon. "She's doing 'pure interest education,' and I think it's amazing.

"It's for people who want to come out of their castles or out from under the ground, listen to material and then go off on their own and learn.

"I see it all the time. Somebody is sitting at a desk saying, 'I'm under pressure to get a paper out.' Whereas this is sort of breezing in, you pick up the book on a Saturday morning, you take it to bed with you and say 'Ah, I'll read it tomorrow or the next day or the next day,'" Kiely said.

"I won't say to people at the end of the first lecture, 'Well I'll expect papers in by the end of the week.' They can ramble off and get drunk if they want," he said.

The following description from the Osher Web site sums up what Kiely will try to do: give audience members a view of the Emerald Isle as seen through the eyes of its poets and writers. "From what origins did Ireland actually spring? A strange fact is celebrated in Lady Augusta Gregory's book—that modern Ireland is largely the invention of its writers. That poets, writers and dreamers could dream up the sort of country that Ireland would become in the 20th century is fantastic, yet true, according to the insights and prophesies of such writers as W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge, Sean O'Casey, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw, among others."

Kiely said the short course, titled "Twentieth Century Ireland: A Literary History," might potentially be a bit dry.

The idea of Kiely—an engaging man with a wily sense of humor and a penchant for story-telling—presenting a dry lecture, is fairly far-fetched. But not to worry.

"I plan to burlesque it up a bit," Kiely said.

—Amy Atkins

For more information on the Osher Institute or to become a member, visit Kiely will present the short courses April 1, 8, 22 and 29, 10 a.m.-noon. The Flicks, 646 Fulton St. Cost is $45.