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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2008

8 - Contemporary poetry in English: 1940–2000

Summary

Introduction

Any consideration of Irish poets as a collective, much less a coherent, body of study may be skewed by two misconceptions of the ‘Irish’ ‘poet’. First, there is a popular tendency to think of that poet as a heroic individual who represents or embodies ‘Irishness’, standing in for the other and – according to this view – lesser poets of his (we use the gender deliberately) generation. Yeats served this purpose during the first Irish literary Renaissance until the year of his death, just before this chapter begins; likewise Seamus Heaney is misconstrued as the single and singularly gifted poet for the second such Renaissance in Ireland. Yet if this misconception needlessly narrows two rich and broadly various periods in Irish literary history, so does its corollary: that the ‘Irish poet’ is a faceless figure carried forward from the bardic past, his or her individual strengths or even eccentricities effaced by the relentless march of tradition.

In the Anthology of Irish Writing produced by Field Day, itself a literary collective, Seamus Deane argues that most nineteenth-century Irish poets ‘survived by clinging on to an organized grouping’ and that ‘this structural organization of Irish writing was to persist into the twentieth century, with the Irish Revival and the northern poets as the dominant groups’. While such groupings can be convenient to critics, in actuality Irish poetic movements have been incoherent and short–lived after and, partially, because of William Butler Yeats. A history of Irish poetry over the last six decades of the twentieth century begins with a handful of poets struggling not to succeed the great poet and chef d’école Yeats but to gain independence from his dominant influence

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