His passion has been so public and his interventions so dramatic (including, it must be said, 14 stage plays) that he was named as Commentator of the Year at the Irish Newspaper Awards in 2012.
Yet his impulse to comment has always remained faithful to some private, reluctant poetic.
He began to write poetry as a teenager and while still a factory-worker founded Raven Arts Press as a great public act of poetic solidarity with silenced communities that surrounded him.
He has never strayed far from that first socialist impulse and however famous or celebrated he becomes he advocates relentlessly for social inclusion and a new kind of socially inclusive aesthetic.
He has retained that undamaged sense of solidarity, in the manner of Jim Kemmy or Paddy Devlin.
There is really no one else like him in Irish poetry; and he is closest in temperament to another much neglected socialist poet, the late Belfast-man John Hewitt.
Other poets may appear above the parapet now and again in a sudden rush of socialist blood during crisis, but Bolger never left that mental space where the poor and the ordinary stand around trying to keep their hands warm at the barricades.
A selection such as this, his newest book, will hopefully introduce an important Dublin voice to a younger generation of readers who can’t have seen his early 1980s collections, Finglas Lilies (1981) and No Waiting America (1982).
That first book had the following lines, as relevant now as when they were first published:
‘She’s off to work as he finishes night shift. Today is their child’s first birthday, They’ll put his name on the housing-list.’
The 1982 collection will always be most celebrated for its powerful Stardust Sequence, written in memory of the 48 people killed in the fire at the Stardust nightclub.
That fatal inferno that was so intense and merciless: ‘When I screamed across the music nobody heard, / I flailed under spotlights like a disco dancer....’
That instinct to record victims would bear a rich and bitter 1980s fruit. Poems like Lullaby of Woman of the Flats’ or Children of 1966 or the now famous The Lament for Arthur Cleary would intensify an aesthetic that developed out of the housing-estate Pperipherique of Greater Dublin.
Powdered milk, sirens and gunshots, factories and timber-yards, all were part of the architecture of this Bolger world where lovers, including Arthur Cleary’s chronicler, would make their solitary way:
‘Down a lane choked with scrap, Littered by rust-eaten ghosts of lorries, Within sight of my father’s house Is where I first loved Arthur Cleary.’
Bolger has turned more than one national icon upside-down, yet his laments, songs of praise and words of love, for friends either dead or exiled, are expressed with a raw passion and sense of belonging.
Even before he wrote The Venice Suite, that beautiful sequence in memory of his wife Bernie, he had written many a fearsome poem of attachment.
I’m thinking of poems about collecting chestnuts with his sons, or the poem written for his mother as he stands on Kelly’s Row in Nerney’s Court thinking of Temple Street Childrens’ Hospital, or those wonderful elegies for Rory Gallagher and Madeleine Stuart.
This New and Selected Poems is yet another act of solidarity from Dermot Bolger, a reminder that ‘even before being born we are each bound to an accord:/ Our survival dependant on being linked to someone we trust.’