OVER THE LAST NUMBER OF WEEKS, I’ve received no shortage of emails, text messages, tweets, comments on the site and words on the street from those people who felt strongly about my recent feature for The Irish Post on five contemporary Irish poets everyone should read, particularly about what they saw as glaring omissions on my part.
So allow me to make some points and clarifications about the list:
Firstly, I believe that credit is due to The Irish Post. Instead of featuring some vacuous, C- list Irish “celebrity”, an air- headed pop star who’s only key attribute is having been born with what his/her fans might perceive as “superior genetics”, or some steroidal- headed idiot who has upped- sticks and somehow managed to forge a career as an action- hero- movie- star in Hollywood, The Irish Post featured the late, great Seamus Heaney on the front page of Rí- Rá, The Irish Post‘s entertainment supplement, along with a 1,500 – 2,000 word, two- page spread, which profiled five contemporary Irish poets; for this, alone, The Irish Post must be commended.
While many readers may well have first read the feature on this site, it was originally featured in the print edition of RÍ- Rá, meaning, of course, that there was limited space for such a feature.
The feature was not aimed at Ph.D candidates in Irish literature or even avid readers of contemporary poetry; rather, it was aimed at a general reader, specifically those many, many people who tweeted and re- tweeted lines from Seamus Heaney’s best- known and best- regarded poems and who, perhaps, have vivid memories of studying Seamus Heaney’s poetry during their secondary education, though are now out of the loop with contemporary Irish poetry.
If those millions and millions of people who quoted lines from Seamus Heaney’s poetry, following Heaney’s premature passing, were committed readers of contemporary poetry and regularly purchased books of poetry by living poets throughout the calendar year, poetry publishing would be a booming enterprise; it isn’t.
The list, then, was intended for those who may just be curious as to what else is out there, in terms of contemporary Irish poetry.
Picking the Poets
I picked five Irish poets from a short- list of twenty, which was a difficult process, to say the least. True, I could have featured all twenty poets, though I wouldn’t have been able to give a thorough introduction to all twenty poets. I chose, instead, to focus on five poets and profile those poets as thoroughly as possible within the limitations of a print publication.
Originally, the list comprised of Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson, Derek Mahon, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Michael Longley. All familiar names, suffice to say, and therein lied two of my deciding factors for the final list: four of these poets are from the north of Ireland and all five poets are now in their sixties / seventies.
Some readers criticised the final list for its lack of female poets: for this I make absolutely no apology, for the simple reason that gender was not- and never should be- a deciding factor in omissions or, for that matter, inclusions. Gender, quite simply, didn’t come into the equation when I was finalising the list; in that sense, I judged all of my inclusions and omissions equally.
There were other poets, too- remarkable talents, such as John Montague, Eavan Boland, Thomas Kinsella, Medbh McGuckian, Tom Paulin, Sinéad Morrissey, Leontia Flynn, Nick Laird, to name but a few- who didn’t make the cut as I didn’t want the list to be too focused on poets from the north and poets who belonged to Seamus Heaney’s generation, who are now headed towards the ‘Collected Poems’ stage of their careers.
I didn’t want to ignore poets from the south and I also didn’t want to ignore younger poets- now at the ‘Selected Poems’ stage- both of which are issues which readers have had with anthologies of Irish poetry that have been compiled in recent decades. Take, for example, Paul Muldoon’s The Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry (1984) and, more recently, Professor Patrick Crotty’s The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry (2010).
Muldoon’s anthology has been criticised for being too Ulster- centric: seven of the ten poets featured were from the north of Ireland, which prompted Belfast- born poet Derek Mahon- writing in a review of Muldoon’s anthology for the Irish Times- to challenge Muldoon on what Mahon saw as Muldoon’s regional bias towards Ulster poets.
Mahon was not alone in his criticism of Muldoon’s anthology and the late Dennis O’Driscoll was equally as critical of Muldoon’s selections. Writing in his essay ‘A Map of Contemporary Irish Poetry’ O’Driscoll had this to say of Muldoon’s anthology:
“Muldoon’s selection, which excludes most of the significant poets from Southern Ireland, depicts the corpus of Irish poetry with a bloated Northern head on a spindly Southern body.”
Similarly, Patrick Crotty’s anthology was the subject of much criticism from Professor Clair Wills and, perhaps most memorably, Dublin- born poet Michael O’Loughlin- again, writing in the pages of the Irish Times and under the heading “Missing: Have You Seen These Poets?”– for what O’Loughlin viewed as Crotty’s “deliberate exclusion of an entire generation” of Irish poets.
The good news- dear readers- is that yours truly will be profiling another five Irish poets in the coming days.
So which Irish poets did I omit from my original list and why should he/she be included in the forthcoming list?
Make a case for inclusions here by commenting below and let me know which poets you think deserve special mention and why.
The list will go live later this week.