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The Troubles Poetry of Post-Millennial Northern Irish Poets Living in Great Britain

By on Jun 28, 2013 in Papers and Talks | 0 comments

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“This paper will consider how the work of emerging Northern Irish poets who live and work in Great Britain engages with the Northern Irish Troubles. It will interrogate how the geographical displacement of the authors reflects other kinds of distance manifest in the poetry and give critical attention to the peculiarly Northern Irish character of this detachment, considering how this is shaped in particular by the recent history of civil unrest. Taking in particular the work of Colette Bryce (b. 1970) and Nick Laird (b. 1975), two poets who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and who have lived their adult lives in Great Britain, this paper will identify the characteristics of the expatriate Troubles poem in the post-Troubles era. Thus, this paper engages with the cultural memory and legacy of the period as well as examining the contemporary impact and engagement as it is felt through poetry.Considering Stuart Hall’s theories of diasporic identity, which recognize that the individual is bound to the place of origin but also insurmountably distanced from it, this paper will set out to demonstrate the distinctiveness of the diasporic Troubles poem. For example, there is common mode of emotional distancing apparent in Bryce and Laird’s poetry. A relentlessly matter-of-fact approach to their memories of the Troubles disguises the closeness of the violence to their own lives; there is no moral outrage or ‘struggle to find images and symbols adequate to our predicament’ (Seamus Heaney). In fact, in addressing the paraphernalia of armed struggle, the poets are shockingly literal. Bryce can somewhat coldly list the components of a car bomb, ‘circuit kit; 4 double-A batteries, 1 9-volt, | 1 SPDT mini-relay, a solar ignitor,’ (‘Device’, The Full Indian Rope Trick). Laird too seems unfeelingly blunt, ‘He’d held a bomb the same weight as he’d been when born’ (‘The Signpost’, To A Fault). As Mark Ford points out, Laird reduces ‘traces of catastrophe to the merely aesthetic’.The paper will also consider other distancing methods, such as the deferral of collective responsibility and the refusal to articulate any personal standpoint. This is demonstrable in Bryce’s work through the tendency to discuss what ‘some’ people say or do while making her own views much harder to pin down (’1981′, ‘Device’, The Full Indian Rope Trick). In Laird’s work, it is the observing or observed position and the narrative voice that represents the distance between the adult poet and the people who more directly experience the Troubles. He is at once viewed ‘An Orange march in Antrim / will see me late arriving’ (‘The Last Saturday in Ulster’, To A Fault) and the controller of the view we see, ‘From the Royal’s window he got a clear view’ (The Signpost, To A Fault).

Finally, this paper will consider if these characteristics are characteristic of Troubles poetry more widely, if they are simply a characteristic of poetry by the younger generation of Northern Irish poets or if they are a characteristic specifically of the Troubles poetry written by the younger generation of Northern Irish poets living in Britain.”

Delivered at The Northern Ireland Troubles in Britain: Impacts, Engagements, Legacies and Memories, University of Brighton, July 2012.
Photo by Dean Molyneaux [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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