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1There is an inherent futurity to each and every poetic act, a fact that does not gainsay the possibility of poetry’s fruitful engagement with its own, and myriad other literary and non-literary, pasts. Whether one encounters the polyphonic expansive localities of Alice Oswald’s Dart, the recollected privacies of Jane Clarke’s The River, or the ecopoetic range of Moya Cannon’s Collected Poems, there are bracing lyrical interminglings of pasts, presents and futures. Such temporal arrangements are, of course, all too often drivers of thematic concerns; we think of the literary histories of Irish nationalist poetry, wherein sentimentality, tradition and utopianism manifest at various junctures. There are transactions enacted between the past and the present, most often with an eye to an ameliorated political, moral or social future. Yet, thematic priorities that valorise the imagination of renewed or radically altered futures also partake of the affordances of poetic form. And Joshua Clover expands on these qualities in his elucidation of the relationship between poetic grammar and syntax. For Clover:

  • 1 Joshua Clover, “Retcon: Value and Temporality in Poetics”, Representations, vol. 126, no. 1, 2014, (...)

The contingency of meaning itself, the continuous activity of reinterpretation, the simultaneous motion by which each step forward must throw the mind backward as well – as Lacan shows, this is a characteristic of grammar in general. Always there, humming in the background. Poetry is defined in part as the language game that takes this motion as a constructive principle, formalizing the contradiction and intensifying its experience.1

2Substitution, selection and contingency may lie at the heart of dictional options of poetic mimesis, but there is an irrevocable temporality to the contingent selection of semiotic substitutes. Their patterning into syntactical arrangements “takes time”, but the reader or auditor must also bear with the temporal structures of the poetic line and the poetic sentence, expecting, demanding and, ultimately, receiving the satisfactions of grammatical resolution. In the wait, in the delay, in the temporal flow of postponed gratification, poetry demands that the reader or auditor process forward in time, so that meaning might be bestowed retrospectively.

  • 2 Jacques Lacan, Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English, translated by Bruce Fink in collabora (...)

3Generic factors also serve to complicate these relationships. The intermingling of the poetic and syntactic units are a little like wave patterns: at times they can cohere perfectly and at times they can jar, with extra nodes of meaning created through these interminglings and interactions. Hence, the sentence and the stanza both offer patterns of meaning, they offer us a point from which, as Lacan has noted, we swiftly refresh and go back to the beginning to check that we have grasped the meaning of the piece. The end of a stanza, like the full stop in a sentence, is a point de capiton, to again quote Lacan, wherein “the signifier stops the otherwise indefinite sliding of signification”,2 as we are directed by our reading experience to recuperate nodes of meaning from what has gone before. In poetry, even the points of seeming certainty of meaning are problematised.

  • 3 Giorgio Agamben, Idea of Prose, translated by Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt, Albany, State Univ (...)

4This is underscored when the sentence runs across the stanzaic spatial break, something which Giorgio Agamben sees as foundational in poetic discourse. Agamben sees enjambment as crucial to the definition of poetry as the “discourse in which it is possible to set a metrical limit against a syntactic one (verse in which enjambment is not actually present is to be seen as verse with zero enjambment). Prose is the discourse in which this is impossible”.3 This serves as a further complication of poetic meaning and thinking, and as a further marker of the importance of poetry in producing fluid and nuanced strictures of meaning which can offer an alternate, parallel and shifting glimpse at the culture from which it derives and about which it speaks.

5As with the micro-mechanics of poetic craft and appreciation, so with critical engagements with, and appraisals of, established and emergent voices, themes and forms in periodical, national and / or global trends in contemporary poetics. There is necessary thematic shuttling between pasts, presents and futures, while formal inheritances are refined or rejected in the evocation of the novel tones and textures of a skein of contemporary identities, phenomena and processes. The very notion of the “contemporary” is fraught with ambiguity in both temporal and spatial terms; how, when and where is the “contemporary”? Additionally, who decides the terms and conditions of contemporaneity? Though the focus of this special issue is geared towards an appreciation of “contemporary Irish poetics”, the editors offer no conclusive answer as to what constitutes the contemporaneity of the Irish poetry under scrutiny in the pages that follow. Certainly, there is recency to the poetry analysed across the essays, and this manifests most acutely in poetry that concerns itself with climate change, migration, and the politics of gender and sexuality. Though who is to say that the poetics of locality and a poetic survey of Eurocentric epistemologies are any less urgent as foci of a contemporary Irish poetics. The current special issue of Études irlandaises claims neither encyclopaedic authorial coverage, nor does it aspire to convene a suite of “neo-canonical” thematic priorities for contemporary Irish poetry. The ten essays collated here constitute a heteronomy of critical perspectives on poets who are inter alia critically acclaimed and well-established, at the outset of their careers, as well as others who have garnered little critical attention despite producing significant bodies of work in poetry and other creative media. Similarly, the objects, places, experiences, identities, influences, and anxieties with which these poets are exercised vary greatly, though they still represent a limited, but exemplary, cross-section of the preoccupations in evidence across the corpus of contemporary Irish poetry. One thing that this journal issue does show is that, without any editorial suggestion or request, the poets considered are all currently writing (with the exception of Seán Ó Ríordáin who is included as an Irish-language poet who has received comparatively little attention in English) and are currently active. The “big beasts” of the 20th century – Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Michael Longley, Eavan Boland – are not included, so it is as if a torch has been informally, and very covertly, passed to a new generation. The notion of “contemporary” here has accreted its own meaning, through the choice of the poets included and, as such, this makes this volume of Études irlandaises in some ways an unintended part of helping to sketch out the lineaments of a new poetic canon in terms of Irish writing in the 21st century. Though inevitably what is sketched herein is itself partial and contestable; other vital emerging poets are not included, such as: Molly Twomey, Victoria Kennefick, Stephen Sexton and Seán Hewitt.

  • 4 Selina Guinness, “Introduction”, in The New Irish Poets, Selina Guinness (ed.), Tarset, Bloodaxe Bo (...)

6In the editorial “Introduction” to the 2004 anthology, The New Irish Poets, the editor, Selina Guinness poses a generic, if no less instructive, question regarding the role of poetry in contemporary Ireland: “How should poetry shape up to this changing society then, or how does society find its way into the shapes of poetic discourse?”.4 Skirting around W. H. Auden’s famous remarks on poetry, Guinness’s question remains relevant two decades later in Ireland. Acknowledging that the lineaments of the Irish nation-state are not bound by the geographical contours of the island, Guinness’s selection in The New Irish Poets ranges from poets who are native to Ireland to those who have either experienced emigration from the country or were brought to the country by immigration. Likewise, given the polyphonic register of the collection, a refreshing and challenging chorus of issues regarding Irish history, gender in Ireland and contemporary Irish society interrogates the limitations of poetic form, verbal communication and the limits of language itself. Guinness, later, touches upon a wider suite of issues in her introductory editorial, an inventory of preoccupations that animate the works of some of the poets under scrutiny in the essays that make up this special issue.

7In Guinness’s estimation:

  • 5 Ibid., p. 30.

[…] the real and everyday concerns of contemporary Ireland demand a poetry that is as interested in the present and the future as it is in reassessing the past. The multifarious set of social forces operating now demands that poets appreciate change which cannot be understood solely within a “national” framework.5

  • 6 Gilles Deleuze, Claire Parnet, Dialogues, Hugh Tomlinson, Barbara Habberjam (trans.), London, Athlo (...)
  • 7 Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Brian Massumi (t (...)

Tellingly, Guinness does not consign the “national” paradigm to oblivion, rather her argument is that there is a productive and complex commerce of ideas and influences in what, at the height of the Celtic Tiger, was adjudged the most globalised society in the world. The “national” paradigm is one spatial context and is continuous with much earlier Irish poetry; equally, the focus on landscapes is continuous with many of these writers’ poetic predecessors but appears to be taken in different directions and is responsive to newer economic and cultural patterns. As is showcased across this special issue, Irish poets continue to engage with, and beyond, the “national”, with pressure to do so brought to bear, specifically, by the ongoing climate emergency and by the emergence of radical new poetic voices from Ireland’s migrant communities. But, equally, there is a return to a poetics of place, as poets persist in their attentiveness, and valorisation, of a skein of “local” Irish topographies, both urban and rural. The thought of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari is a useful guide in understanding this process, as they see poetry as both grounded and airy at the same time. Hence Deleuze sees poetry as a process of “thinking in things” and “among things”,6 whereas with Guattari, he sees poetry as rhizomatic, as, “unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, with binary relations between the points and biunivocal relationships between the positions”, a structure that of necessity elides or silences aspects that are not part of these fixed positions, the rhizome “is made only of lines […] lines of flight or deterritorialisation”.7 The articles in this edition pay due attention to both imperatives in the sensitive readings offered to themes of the land and themes of the air; to the local and ordinary as well as the global and mythic.

8In many respects, then, contemporary Irish poetry reflects upon the problematisation of the stable referents of Irish identity politics. In other ways, Irish poets lead, and insist upon, critical and creative re-appraisals of the hoary moral codes and epistemological certainties that underpinned narrow-gauge definitions of, for instance, Irish citizenship and Irish gender identities. As our contributions make manifest, Irish poetics now takes a measure of the endurances and possibilities of the body in time and in space. Indeed, a return to the somatic in terms of poetic form and thematic experience is emphatic of the immediacy of the oral and the sensory to which all poetry owes its original performance-as-creation. So, if the contemporaneity of much Irish poetry is evidenced in its diversity of responses to the cultural politics of the current moment, that is not to say that legacies and inheritances are not palpable in the contours of form and the energies of content touched upon in the ensuing critiques. The essays demonstrate the plurality and scope of contemporary Irish poetry, and also of contemporary Irish poetry criticism. It is hoped that these essays and readings will be a springboard for discussion of these writers and others, as we attempt to understand more fully and comprehensively this most protean of literary genres.

9One of the most celebrated collections of poetry published in 2022 was Padraig Regan’s Some Integrity, and Jessica Bundschuh’s article takes Regan’s work as the object of its analyses. Taking impetus from queer and ecological theorisation, Bundschuh’s essay highlights the ways in which Regan tests the boundaries of the historically regnant lyric “I”. For Bundschuh, Regan’s poetry promotes haptic encounters with the physical world around us, and the poetry privileges ecological experiences of mutualism and porosity, which have both aesthetic and moral implications. Regan disavows the neat structural binaries that are so conditional and informative of Western, patriarchal cultural and social histories, espousing an alternative ontology that puts such dichotomous abstractions under erasure. As Bundschuh outlines, the body becomes a key mediating presence within this aesthetic perspective and this approach is best encapsulated by what Regan themselves dubs as a form of “eroto-geography”.

10Wit Pietrzak’s article takes a measure of Maurice Scully’s poetry, alighting particularly on his volume, Tig, with which Scully concludes his Things That Happen project. The essay is marked by an array of theoretical informants, among them a number of new materialist philosophers, including Jane Bennett and Graham Harman. This field of theorisation has become especially influential in corners of contemporary ecocriticism, given that it prioritises the agential nature of all matter – human and non-human alike. Consequently, this new materialist strand of ecocritical thought argues that once all matter is agentive, there is a necessary decentring of the humanist subject. And it is precisely this thread that Pietrzak traces in Scully’s aesthetic, a body of work that, as the essay suggests, moves the spotlight away from the integrated and creative poetic self and onto the multiplicities and ambivalences of the more-than-human material world.

11Ailbhe McDaid’s contribution attends to the possibilities of formal and technical innovation in contemporary Irish poetry, specifically as it pertains to acts of witnessing institutional, racial and structural violence in the Irish context. For those acted-upon by such violences, the poetic is seen as a crucible of representational resistance, an aesthetic space in which previously erased voice(s) can be articulated and registered. McDaid treats the outputs of a suite of experimental poets currently working in, on, and / or about Ireland. In particular, the essay considers the works of Kimberly Campanello, Felispeaks, Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi and Cherry Smyth. Each of these poets have produced recent, and powerful, poetic works that address: the Tuam Babies burial scandal, the death of George Nkencho and the legacies of the Famine, and they have done so through thoroughly radical poetic practices. The essay analyses Campanello’s MOTHERBABYHOME, Felispeaks’s Dubh, Enyi-Amadi’s “Exile” and Smyth’s Famished, and so doing concludes that these kinds of poetic interventions are not simply aesthetic assertions, but have purchase beyond the literary, and speak back to the elisions and silences of state-sanctioned historical narratives in Ireland. In this respect, such poetic creativity is not only aesthetic but is profoundly political and ethical in its intent and in its effects.

12Catriona Clutterbuck focuses on the work of Tipperary poet Michael Coady, who writes very much about the local and about its importance in terms of offering access to a lived experience of real people and granting a purchase on reality as we know it in the contemporary world. He also sees the local as a source of transcendence. This article looks at a number of issues that are addressed very creatively by Coady, including the use of demotic language (nicknames for example) and notions of shared and communal creativity. His use of different genres and his intermingling of genres, as well as his interest in the oral tradition, with notions of magic and enchantment, and in its heritage are also examined, as is his sense that the local can be a very resonant metaphor in the current globalised Ireland. His use of different media for his work is also looked at, especially photography, as his unique ability to write about the local in a way that gestures towards the universal. His critical reception is also analysed as is the way in which his work provides challenges to binary thinking.

13Eric Falci looks at the role of the sentence in poetry in a manner that offers highly original insights into poetry as a discourse. Looking at how syntax and stanza relate to each other, he offers a comprehensive and detailed account of how sentences function in poetry in a unique manner. He shows how poetry takes the rules under which sentences are constructed and operate and stretches them to almost breaking point in their poetic structures. Looking at the work of Giorgio Agamben, Bob Perelman, Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman, he examines different ideas about the connection between the stanza and the sentence. He then offers readings of poems by William Butler Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Sinéad Morrissey, and Catherine Walsh, which focus on how they specifically structure sentences to best effect in their poetry. He sees Yeats, Heaney, and Morrissey as experimenting on sentences from within sentences, while Walsh takes the opposite approach.

14Máirtín Coilféir looks at one of the strongest Irish language poets of the 20th century, namely Seán Ó Ríordáin, focusing on the role played by representations of dirt, disease and the compromised body. Looking at Mary Douglas’s work on pollution and taboo, this essay engages with Ó Ríordáin’s programmatic foreword to his first collection, Eireaball Spideoige [A Robin’s Tail], and analyses how Ó Ríordáin saw his own composition in terms of the language and symbolic framework that he set out. Dirt and disease play an important role in his aesthetic philosophy and this is carefully teased out across the essay. His musings on the nature of poetry and what it means are then used to analyse some of his own writing. The essay suggests a far more thoughtful and theoretical intelligence behind Ó Ríordáin’s work than has heretofore been seen. Strong connections are made between the human body and the body of poetry, and a strain of religious imagery and thought is also traced.

15Eugene O’Brien’s article examines Micheal O’Siadhail’s 2018 collection The Five Quintets, seeing it as heavily influenced by classical and modernist tropes, especially Dante’s The Divine Comedy and T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. The essay also traces the influence of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. It examines the very complex structure of the book, with its five separate area of focus, all of which interact and intersect as O’Siadhail strives to show how we have reached the present stage of human development in the 21st century. In each quintet, we meet a series of personages from the last several hundred years in art, music, literature (“Making”), commerce and economics (“Dealing”), politics and governance (“Steering”), science and mathematics (“Finding”), and theology (“Meaning”), and this article explores the epistemological imperative behind the book, as well as looking at the structural composition of the bolection, and at how this collection deconstructs prevailing norms of lyrical poetry and looks to bring to the fore the almost forgotten genre of the public poem.

16Daniela Theinová compares poetic descriptions of Dublin and Belfast as cities which are described while walking across a range of poets. She notes that both Louis MacNeice and Derek Mahon have written a number of poems which depict walking around Dublin and setting in art its reputation as a literary city. She sees these writers as being part of Walter Benjamin’s notion of the “flâneur”, a “happy observer”, and goes on to cite a parallel pattern of writerly ambulation and description in Belfast in the writing of Ciaran Carson and two younger Belfast poets, Alan Gillis and Padraig Regan. All three foreground walking and movement through urban spaces as a powerful literary trope and an effective tool of social criticism. Theinová sees a further deconstruction of tradition in their work as they actively deconstruct the culturally masculine figure of the flâneur, in their writing.

17Eóin Flannery’s ecopoetical intervention reads the work of Ciaran Berry in terms of what David Farrier refers to as “anthropocene poetics”. The latter is a critical strategy that places a premium on analysing and situating literary and cultural texts in relation to historical scales that decentre the human subject, and is a crucial move in confronting the anthropocentrism of much Western political economic and literary discourse. The essay looks at a range of Berry’s poems from both The Sphere of Birds (2008) and The Dead Zoo (2013). Both “For the Birds” and “Electrocuting an Elephant” from The Sphere of Birds will be scrutinised, while the “The Dead Zoo”, “Darwin in the Galapagos” and “Polar Bear” from The Dead Zoo will also be addressed. Key ecocritical notions such as the Anthropocene, “deep time”, evolutionary histories of the human and the non-human, and extinction will be deployed as part of the essay’s engagement with Berry’s work. And the poetic mediation of such pressing ecological issues will be executed in tandem with close attention to the politics of poetic form as evident in the five selected pieces.

18Lucy Collins focuses on the relatively new generic form of documentary poetry, which generally involves poets looking into historical and archival material as they write. She makes significant connections between the growth of this genre, and the Decade of Centenaries that has been part of the Irish contemporary cultural sphere as the events of the founding of the state have been recalled. She focuses on Julie Morrissy’s Radical!: Women and the Irish Revolution and Vona Groarke’s Hereafter: The Telling Life of Ellen O’Hara, foregrounding the role of women which had hitherto been unvoiced.

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1 Joshua Clover, “Retcon: Value and Temporality in Poetics”, Representations, vol. 126, no. 1, 2014, p. 20.

2 Jacques Lacan, Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English, translated by Bruce Fink in collaboration with Héloïse Fink and Russell Grigg, London, W. W. Norton, 2006, p. 681.

3 Giorgio Agamben, Idea of Prose, translated by Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1995, p. 39 (emphasis in the original).

4 Selina Guinness, “Introduction”, in The New Irish Poets, Selina Guinness (ed.), Tarset, Bloodaxe Books, 2004, p. 18.

5 Ibid., p. 30.

6 Gilles Deleuze, Claire Parnet, Dialogues, Hugh Tomlinson, Barbara Habberjam (trans.), London, Athlone Press, 1987, p. 26.

7 Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Brian Massumi (trans.), Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987, p. 21.

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Eóin Flannery

Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick

Eóin Flannery est maître de conférences en littérature britannique au département de langue et littérature anglaises du Mary Immaculate College de l’université de Limerick. En 2022, il était professeur invité en études irlandaises à l’Université Concordia à Montréal, au titre de la bourse Peter O’Brien. Il est l’auteur de plus de soixante articles et chapitres, et de cinq livres dont les plus récents sont Form, Affect and Debt in Post-Celtic Tiger Fiction (Londres, Bloomsbury Academic, 2022) et Ireland and Ecocriticism : Literature, History, and Environmental Justice (New York – Londres, Routledge, 2016). Il a dirigé des numéros thématiques de revues telles que Journal of Ecocriticism, Postcolonial Text et Irish Studies Review. Ses projets de recherche en cours incluent une étude de la carrière et de l’œuvre de Eugene McCabe, un livre intitulé Sounding the Contemporary in Irish Poetry, et un ouvrage dirigé avec Eugene O’Brien sur la poésie animale irlandaise.

Eóin Flannery is associate professor of English literature in the Department of English Language and Literature at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick. He was the Peter O’Brien Visiting Scholar in Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia University, Montréal in 2022. He has published over sixty scholarly articles and book chapters, and he is the author of five books, the latest being Form, Affect and Debt in Post-Celtic Tiger Fiction (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2022) and Ireland and Ecocriticism: Literature, History, and Environmental Justice (New York – London, Routledge, 2016). He has edited special themed issues of journals such as Journal of Ecocriticism, Postcolonial Text and Irish Studies Review. His current research projects include a study of the career and work of Eugene McCabe, a book entitled Sounding the Contemporary in Irish Poetry, and, with Eugene O’Brien, a co-edited volume on Irish animal poetics.

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Eugene O’Brien

Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick

Eugene O’Brien est professeur de littérature anglaise et de théorie littéraire, ainsi que chef de département au Mary Immaculate College de l’université de Limerick. Il est responsable de la théorie littéraire dans le cadre du projet Oxford Bibliographies, ainsi que de la collection « Routledge Studies in Irish Literature ». Parmi ses ouvrages récents, on trouve Seamus Heaney as Aesthetic Thinker : A Study of the Prose (Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 2016) et “The soul exceeds its circumstances” : The Later Poetry of Seamus Heaney (Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 2016). Son dernier livre, Reading Paul Howard : The Art of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, a paru chez Routledge en 2024. Il travaille actuellement sur une monographie consacrée à Micheal O’Siadhail, prépare avec Ian Hickey un livre sur la prose de Seamus Heaney, et rédige avec Anne Fogarty A Companion to 21st Century Irish Writing, trois ouvrages à paraître chez Routledge.

Eugene O’Brien is professor of English literature and theory, and Head of Department in Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick. He is the editor for the Oxford University Press online bibliography project in literary theory (Oxford Bibliographies), and of the “Routledge Studies in Irish Literature” series. Recent books include Seamus Heaney as Aesthetic Thinker: A Study of the Prose (Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 2016) and “The soul exceeds its circumstances”: The Later Poetry of Seamus Heaney (Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 2016). His latest book, Reading Paul Howard: The Art of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, is published by Routledge in 2024. He is currently working on a monograph on Micheal O’Siadhail; a book on Seamus Heaney’s prose, with Ian Hickey; and A Companion to 21st Century Irish Writing, with Anne Fogarty all with Routledge.

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