Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Munster Republic

I received the following from the Munster Literature Centre today:

The brilliance of poets emerging from Northern Ireland in the last century, their dual-nationality, the colour of their background and the attention and authority of the only serious contemporary Irish poetry critic of the time (Edna Longley) led to an imbalanced projection of Irish poetry to the wider world.

With the Troubles in the past the achievements of poets from the southern quarter of the island are now coming sharply into focus.

The Munster Literature Centre is calling for academic papers written in English on the subject of Contemporary Munster Poets. The resulting work will be published in book form late 2009. The papers may focus on individual poets, perceived schools or any other aspect to do with contemporary Munster poets. The papers may deal with poets writing in English, Irish or both together.

From June 2008 as many Cork poets (Maurice Riordan, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Bernard O'Donoghue) will feature on the Faber publishing list as Ulster poets (Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Tom Paulin).

The University College Cork group of Innti poets (Liam O Muirthile, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Michael Davitt, Gabriel Rosenstock, Louis de Paor and Colm Breathnach) are widely acknowledged as having revitalised poetry in the Irish language in the last thirty years. Through translation their work has had an influence which has reached beyond the Irish language literary community.

A contemporaneous group in UCC writing in English, described by Thomas Dillon Redshaw, as "that remarkable generation" consisted of Maurice Riordan, Gregory O'Donoghue, Gerry Murphy, Theo Dorgan,Thomas McCarthy, Sean Dunne and Greg Delanty.

A grouping of senior, influential Munster poets would include Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Patrick Galvin, Michael Hartnett, Desmond O'Grady, Sean Lysaght, Brendan Kennelly, John Ennis, Paul Durcan (who lived in , worked in and wrote about Munster for almost twenty years).

Other Munster poets significant for the achievement of their work or for their potential for academic attention would be Bernard O'Donoghue, Peter Sirr, Aidan Murphy, Roz Cowman, Aine Miller, Ciaran O'Driscoll, John Liddy, Paddy Bushe, Dennis O'Driscoll, Michael Coady, Robert Welch, Catherine Phil MacCarthy, Gabriel Fitzmaurice, Michael Fanning, William Wall, Rosemary Canavan, James Harpur, Augustus Young, Trevor Joyce, Frank Golden, Michael Fanning, Eugene O'Connell, Padraig J. Daly

A younger generation just getting into their publishing stride would include John Sexton, Eileen Sheehan, Billy Ramsell, Leanne O'Sullivan, Patrick Cotter, Liz O'Donoghue, John McAuliffe, Matthew Geden.

Papers should be submitted in hard copy by October 31st 2008 to:

the Contemporary Munster Poetry Criticism Project,
The Munster Literature Centre,
Frank O'Connor House,
84 Douglas Street,

Maybe it’s my sceptical nature but I’ve never understood the case for ‘Munster’ as some kind of autonomous cultural entity, so the argument above, that we should exchange one kind of parochialism for another, doesn’t hold much attraction. Other than the rugby team, does Munster resonate as a distinctive place with a culture or a literary sensibility radically different from Leinster or Connacht? Do any of the old provinces really hold a value for us other than as lines on a historical map? Munster does have a historical resonance, of course, but even that is fragmented. Do you mean Tuadh Mumhan (North Munster), Deas Mumhan (South Munster), Ur Mumhan (East Munster), Iar Mumhan (West Munster), Ernaibh Muman (the Ernai tribes portion of Munster), or Deisi Mumhan (the Deisi tribe’s portion of Munster), or the kingdoms of Thomond, Desmond and Ormond into which they were eventually subsumed? All of these had their defenders and their competing voices but few would have pledged loyalty to the larger entity. Perhaps the case for Munster would be less strenuously articulated if it didn’t have Cork in it. It’s certainly hard not to feel that in the argument above Munster is essentially another name for Cork. No-one could argue against the distinctiveness of Cork but again, when it comes to literature, is it the Corkness of Maurice Riordan, Gregory O’Donoghue, Gerry Murphy, Theo Dorgan, that really matters, or the Waterfordness of Sean Dunne or the Waterfordness cum Corkness of Thomas McCarthy?

And even if an irrefutable case could be made for Cork as the central factor in the sensibility of these writers, can we really talk usefully about the Ennisness of a poet or the Thurlesness of another? And is there a line of shared heritage and impulse that could be drawn from Killarney to Clonmel or from Nenagh to Dungarvan? Trevor Joyce may live in Cork but you would be hard put to reconstruct its streets from his poems. Though I’m listed as a Munster poet myself, I feel as if I’ve been picked by the wrong team. I was, it is true, born in Waterford, but both of my parents came from the West of Ireland and we left the place in the late sixties. I’ve been back twice on brief visits since. It’s a childhood place for me, and one that I remember quite intensely but I couldn’t pretend to a Waterford, or a Munster, sensibility on the strength of it. Dublin, on the other hand, is a constant companion, obsession, and provider of spiritual nourishment, not least because I’ve lived in it, with one long gap, for forty years. And even then I wouldn’t think of myself as a Dublin writer, but more as someone who writes in the English language with all kinds of wires snaking out into all kinds of English and other language traditions. I value hugely a lot of writers on the list above and yet I would never think of them as essentially Munster writers and would never look to them for expressions of Munsterness. I'm not even sure I recognise the Durcan who writes 'about Munster'. On the other hand I follow Munster’s exploits in the Heineken cup with a fluttering heart whereas Leinster never gets the pulse going. Maybe it’s the shirts. . . , the passion, the call of the ancestors...is fada liom oíche fhírfhliuch. . .wait, I feel a Munster moment coming on. . . .

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