History and Poetry: Derek Mahon and Tom Paulin
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.
KeywordsZinc Entropy Europe Tuberculosis Hunt
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