Modern Irish Literature Criticism: Poetry - Essay

Vivian Mercier

Donald T. Torchiana (essay date 1964)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Contemporary Irish Poetry,” in Chicago Review, Vol. 17, Nos. 2 & 3, 1964, pp. 152-68.

[In the following essay, Torchiana compares the poetry of John Montague, Richard Murphy, Austin Clarke, and Thomas Kinsella.]

Contemporary Irish poetry written in English can show nothing comparable to the poetry of Yeats, perhaps even to that of Gogarty or the late Denis Devlin. Yet modern Ireland has several very competent, often satisfying poets.1 They would not be caught dead writing the lumpish verse, that still passes for poetry, once scribbled by AE, Katherine Tynan, F. R. Higgins, and Seumus O'Sullivan, and now by Ewart Milne, Donagh MacDonagh, and...

(The entire section is 6443 words.)

Douglas Dunn (essay date 1973)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Speckled Hill, the Plover's Shore: Northern Irish Poetry Today,” in Encounter, Vol. XLI, No. 6, December, 1973, pp. 70-6.

[In the following essay, Dunn discusses the contemporary poetry of Northern Ireland, including Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, James Simmons, and John Montague.]

In the North of Ireland, poets—most of them young—are faced with the cruel but interesting difficulties of realising their attitudes to violence and history. In a recent survey of contemporary Irish literature compiled by the French critic Serge Fauchereau, political topicality is elicited from poets in a series of interviews.1 What emerges is that to be a poet...

(The entire section is 3527 words.)

Dillon Johnston (essay date 1974)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘The Enabling Ritual’: Irish Poetry in the 'Seventies,” in Shenandoah, Vol. XXV, No. 4, Summer, 1974, pp. 3-24.

[In the following essay, Johnston compares works by Thomas Kinsella, John Montague, Richard Murphy, Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Seamus Deane, Richard Ryan, and Paul Muldoon.]

But the stupidity
Of root, shoot, blossom or clay
Make no demand.
I bend my body to the spade
Or grope with a dirty hand.
                                                                                W. B. Yeats
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards.
                                                                                Seamus Heaney


(The entire section is 7475 words.)

Seamus Deane (essay date 1976)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Appetites of Gravity: Contemporary Irish Poetry,” in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LXXXIV, No. 1, January-March, 1976, pp. 199-208.

[In the following review, Deane assesses works by Seamus Heaney, Thomas Kinsella, Derek Mahon, and Richard Murphy.]

Reading these five books, [Wintering Out, North, Notes from the Land of the Dead and Other Poems, The Snow Party, and High Island,] I am reminded of what R. P. Blackmur wrote in 1948: “Almost the whole job of culture has been dumped on the artist's hands.” In Ireland, where this is particularly true, most writers have become wearied by the attritional quality of their...

(The entire section is 4017 words.)

Adrian Frazier (essay date 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Irish Poetry After Yeats,” in The Literary Review, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Winter, 1979, pp. 133-44.

[In the following essay, Frazier presents an overview of Irish poetry after W. B. Yeats's death, focusing on Austin Clarke, Patrick Kavanagh, Ciarán Carson, Michael Longley, and Derek Mahon.]

All readers of poetry will admit that one great poet has come out of Ireland in the twentieth century: William Butler Yeats. The enormous appeal of his poetry, especially to Americans, has resulted in a large Irish tourist industry. There are daily buses to Ballylee and Coole Park, summer schools in Sligo (now called “Yeats Country”), critical books on display in the...

(The entire section is 3790 words.)

Kevin P. Reilly (essay date 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Re-Membering: Irish Poetry After Yeats,” in Eire-Ireland, Vol. XV, No. 3, 1980, pp. 120-26.

[In the following essay, Reilly responds to Adrian Frazier's essay on “Irish Poetry after Yeats.”]

The keynote poem in The Literary Review's Winter, 1979, issue on “Irish Poetry after Yeats” is Michael Longley's “On Hearing Irish Spoken.”1 The poet eavesdrops on a conversation between two fishermen gliding together in their currachs, and hears only “An echo of technical terms, the one I know / Repeating itself at desperate intervals / Like the stepping stones across a river in spate.” Longley, a Belfast Protestant and native speaker...

(The entire section is 2946 words.)

Terence Brown (essay date 1981)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “An Ulster Renaissance? Poets from the North of Ireland, 1965-1980,” in Concerning Poetry, Vol. 14, No. 2, 1981, pp. 5-23.

[In the following essay, Brown discusses the poetry of Northern Ireland poets Michael Longley, Seamus Heaney, John Montague, and Derek Mahon.]

The first poem in a recent anthology Poets from the North of Ireland (edited by Frank Ormsby and published in 1979) included the line about a Northern poet:

His rainy countryside didn't, scholastically, exist. … 

Whether it can be said to exist poetically in any worthwhile sense will be the subject of this paper as it seeks to marshal evidence to show...

(The entire section is 5818 words.)

Robert F. Garratt (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Modern Irish Poetry: Tradition and Continuity from Yeats to Heaney, University of California Press, 1986, pp. 1-15.

[In the following essay, Garratt traces the evolution of Irish poetry from the Irish Renaissance to the international acclaim of Seamus Heaney.]

The following essay offers a reading of Irish poetry since Yeats and attempts to explain a main current, or preoccupation, in the writing of certain poets from the 1930s to the 1970s. As a reading it is selective both in its choice of poets and in its critical vantage point. I have chosen these particular poets because I believe that they represent the major voices in Irish poetry after...

(The entire section is 5539 words.)

John Drexel (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Threaders of Double-Stranded Words: News from the North of Ireland,” in New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly, Vol. XII, No. 2, Winter, 1989, pp. 179-92.

[In the following essay, Drexel reviews works by Ciarán Carson, Medbh McGuckian, and Paul Muldoon.]

Fifty years after his death, Yeats's influence on Irish poetry is finally beginning to fade. It isn't that the current generation has discounted him—to the contrary. But if there is a presiding figure now for younger Irish poets to contend with, it's Seamus Heaney. Heaney's accomplishment in our day may not match that of Yeats in his, but Heaney is by far the most visible Irish poet currently at...

(The entire section is 4761 words.)

Thomas E. Kennedy (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Small Gifts of Knowing,” in The Literary Review, Vol. 40, No. 4, Summer, 1997, pp. 561-65.

[In the following essay, Kennedy discusses modernism, politics, and religion as elements of contemporary Irish poetry.]

The poet Patrick Kavanagh once quipped that Ireland has a standing army of at least five thousand poets. This would seem to be no exaggeration. Despite Samuel Beckett's charge that the Irish as a nation “never gave a fart in its corduroys for any form of art whatsoever,” Patrick Crotty in Modern Irish Poetry (The Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 1995) notes, “Contemporary Ireland is clearly hospitable to new poetry,” though he adds,...

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Ailbhe Smyth (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Dodging Around the Grand Piano: Sex, Politics, and Contemporary Irish Women's Poetry,” in Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de la femme, Vol. 17, No. 3, Summer/Fall, 1997, pp. 76-85.

[In the following essay, Smyth examines feminist issues as presented in the poetry of several contemporary Irish female poets.]

The preoccupation with Irishness as the primary terrain of criticism has disturbing repercussions for poetry, because poems which do not nourish these critical concerns are considered as either not really Irish, or not really poems.

L'auteure examine les représentations...

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John Kerrigan (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Earth Writing: Seamus Heaney and Ciaran Carson,” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. XLVIII, No. 2, April, 1998, pp. 144-68.

[In the following essay, Kerrigan compares and contrasts the poetry of Ciaran Carson and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.]

In the human geography of these islands, diversity is the rule. Plainly, however, there are regions in which the juxtapositions of difference do not coincide with a tolerant multi-culturalism. Although the Troubles could only have happened in Ulster, there are aspects of the situation which echo across the archipelago. Events in Northern Ireland can seem locked—not least for Seamus Heaney—in a violent past which other...

(The entire section is 8562 words.)

Gregory A. Schirmer (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Covert Voices: Women Poets After the Revival,” in Poetry in Modern Ireland, 1998, pp. 319-28

[In the following essay, Schirmer examines the poetry of Irish women writers Sheila Wingfield, Blanaid Salkeld, Mary Devenport O'Neill, Maire MacEntee, and Eithne Strong.]

Irish women poets writing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and during the years of the literary revival achieved a certain visibility, even if their work was often subsumed by the various literary or political movements that both supported and contained them. The poetry of Irish women writing in the wake of the revival and the establishment of the Irish Free State was much less widely...

(The entire section is 3565 words.)