Thursday 28 April 2016 is Poetry Day Ireland, a day in which to read, share, and enjoy poetry across the country. The theme is ‘Revolution’ in this ‘year of commemoration’, with its nation-wide programme of events marking the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
Poetry, no less than politics, can be an ideologically and emotionally charged force to be reckoned with. That is, when it reaches an audience. Poetry Day is an initiative of Poetry Ireland/Éigse Éireann, whose stated mission is ‘Connecting poetry and people’. Their website curates a wide range of poetry-related resources for readers, writers, and teachers (available year-round), while their Poetry Day pages feature information about events taking place around the country on 28 April, specially designed postcards and selected poems to download for free.
In addition to Poetry Ireland’s efforts to maintain and increase appreciation of poetry in contemporary Ireland, Galway’s Cúirt International Festival of Literature hosted two events last week that allowed emerging canons of Irish poetry to reach a live audience (www.cuirt.ie).
First was the launch of the bilingual anthology Leabhar na hAthghabhála: Poems of Repossession, edited by Louis de Paor (Hexham: Bloodaxe Books and Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 2016). This volume picks up where An Duanaire, 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed, edited by Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella (Bord na Gaeilge, 1981), left off, presenting English-language translations alongside Irish-language originals by major poets of the last hundred years. In this way, Leabhar na hAthghabhála acts as a cultural bridge allowing anglophones and learners of Irish to access and appreciate Irish-language poetry and thus expand its audience into the future.
Also in the Cúirt programme was What Foremothers?, a dramatic performance woven together from the English-language works of six forgotten twentieth-century female Irish poets. Directed by Sarah O’Toole and produced in conjunction with #wakingthefeministswest, What Foremothers? takes Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s 1992 question as its title and as an invitation both to interrogate the gendered formation of the canon of English-language poetry in the Republic and to begin recovering lost female voices.
The poems featured in both these collections explore pertinent questions of self-determination and its limits, including gendered, cultural and national identities, while demonstrating the broadening of themes and poetic styles available to poets working in both Irish and English in Ireland today.
While I find such developments heartening, the early modernist in me remains somewhat dissatisfied. What about earlier poetic foremothers? What about earlier Irish revolutions, like the 1641 Rising, and the poems they inspired? While the anthology Verse in English from Tudor and Stuart Ireland, edited by Andrew Carpenter (Cork: Cork UP, 2003) includes several male-authored and anonymous political poems from the 1640s-50s, I haven’t yet managed to find any poems written by women about the 1641 Rising and its aftermath to round out the picture.
So, to celebrate Poetry Day Ireland, let me conclude by sharing a new poem of my own that engages with this year’s commemorative, revolutionary, and feminist rhetorics. It responds in particular to Máire Mhac an tSaoi’s ‘Fód an imris: Ard-Oifig an Phoist, 1986 [Trouble Spot: General Post Office 1986]’ and Rita Ann Higgins’s ‘The Women of 1916’. (These can be found in Leabhar na hAthghabhála and Higgins, Tongulish (Hexham: Bloodaxe Books, 2016) respectively).
I hope you will read these or other poems of your choice on the day itself! To share your favourite poems, tweet with #PoetryDayIrl.
The Women of 1641
(Many thanks to Wes Hamrick for helpful discussions and to Sarah O’Toole for providing performance photos of What Foremothers?)