“Derry born poet Colette Bryce claims that literary criticism finds change hard, saying ‘[m]ale poets are usually criticised in relation to the canon whereas women poets are often discussed as working in a vacuum’. This paper will offer new critical insights into Bryce’s work by considering her in relation to both the canon and the vacuum. However, in an attempt to change critical paradigms in the manner the poet speaks of, it will address her work within a women’s canon and a men’s vacuum.Following from Alice Entwistle and Jane Dowson’s history of British and Irish twentieth century women’s poetry which identifies Carol Ann Duffy as the major poet in the recent women’s tradition, this study will interrogate the characteristics of such a canon. It will consider the parallels between Bryce and Duffy, exploring in particular the ways in which lesbian sexuality is legitimized in love poetry. It will also address subversion within literary lineage, demonstrating how the poet-precursor becomes the poet-peer in recent literary history. In close reading poems from various stages in Bryce’s career with alongside parallel concerns in Duffy’s work, I will question who influences whom.The paper will also address how Bryce’s poetry has a problematic relationship with the men poets of the Northern Irish canon. It will suggest how her engagement (or lack of engagement) denies them the canonicity they initially represent. In doing so, I propose Bryce’s poetry writes itself into its own vacuum in which literary authority is subverted.”
Delivered at New Voices 2012: Legitimate Ireland, Queen’s University, Belfast. April 2012.