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‘This Silence is [Un]Ambiguous’: Female Absence in Northern Irish Poetry Pre-1995

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

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“This paper will investigate the absence of women in contemporary Northern Irish poetry during an era of exceptional poetic activity within the province and the simultaneous, independent, growth of women’s writing outside of the province. The study will explore three kinds of female absence; not being published in single author collections, not being selected for any of the many anthologies of contemporary Ulster verse, and not appearing with any agency in the representations of women in the verse that was being published by famed male poets such as Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Paul Muldoon. Thus, this paper considers both the ‘business’ of poetry production and poetry itself to investigate exclusion and the popular conception that there were no Northern Irish women poets of note but for Medbh McGuckian.

The title is taken from a statement by Ruth Hooley, editor of the only women’s anthology of writing from the North of Ireland and a member of a collective of women who met to critique their poems together throughout the period. Surveying the field, one finds that her comment, ‘this silence is ambiguous. Does it mean an absence – there are hardly any women writing?’ is ultimately unambiguous. What poetry’s patriarchy during the post-1960 period means for women writing post-1995 is perhaps more ambiguous, and I will conclude by identifying what possibilities might be inherent in an all-male tradition for women post-1995.”

Delivered at ‘Feted and Forgotten’, University of Oxford English Graduate Conference, June 2011.

Photograph by Guian Bolisay (Flickr). CC 2.0 Attribution Share Alike.

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