History and Poetry: Derek Mahon and Tom Paulin

  • Peter McDonald

Abstract

Any serious reading of the poetry produced by writers from the North of Ireland over the past twenty years soon has to encounter the various imperatives of ‘history’; indeed, a great deal of what we understand by ‘contemporary Northern Irish poetry’ is in some part at least a contribution to an all-too-pressing historical discussion, one conducted in the contexts not just of memory and tradition, but of real bullets and continuing deaths. The very simplicity and obviousness of all this has tempted critics to see the role of poets in such a situation as similarly straightforward — as reflective, prescriptive, or disengaged from the different arguments of force. Yet poetry’s place in relation to ‘history’ is not susceptible to rules of this sort, and good poetry tends to prove them futile, just as bad poetry takes them for its yardstick of orthodoxy. For all that, it is important to make sense out of the points of contact between poetry and history in recent Northern Irish writing, and to see the variousness of the writers’ approaches to this attractive and powerful, yet also sometimes creatively dangerous, artistic crux.

Keywords

Zinc Entropy Europe Tuberculosis Hunt 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Derek Mahon, Poems 1962–1978 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979) p. 4.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    The Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice, ed. E. R. Dodds (London: Faber and Faber, 1966) p. 62.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Tom Paulin, ‘The Man from No Part: Louis MacNeice’, Ireland and the English Crisis (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1984) pp. 78–9.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Tom Paulin, Liberty Tree (London: Faber and Faber, 1983) p. 16.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Derek Mahon, The Hunt by Night (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982) p. 20.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Derek Mahon, Courtyards in Delft (Dublin: Gallery Books, 1981) p. 17.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Tom Paulin, Introduction to The Faber Book of Political Verse (London: Faber and Faber, 1986) p. 51.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    Tom Paulin, Fivemiletown (London: Faber and Faber, 1987) p. 4.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    Louis MacNeice, The Strings are False: An Unfinished Autobiography (London: Faber and Faber, 1965) pp. 78–9.Google Scholar
  10. 24.
    Derek Mahon, Antarctica (Dublin; Gallery Books, 1985) pp. 23–7.Google Scholar
  11. 25.
    Tom Paulin, The Strange Museum (London: Faber and Faber 1980) p. 34.Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    T. S. Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’, III, in Complete Poems and Plays (London: Faber and Faber, 1969) p. 195.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter McDonald

There are no affiliations available

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