Poetry Recommendations, Part 1
Poetry isn’t the most popular literary genre out there, sure, but there’s no denying that Ireland has produced some of the greatest poets of all time—perhaps the names Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, or James Joyce sound familiar from your freshman lit class? But Ireland didn’t stop producing incredible poets in the 19th century! We’re here tonight on the blog to recommend some of Ireland’s greatest modern poets for your reading pleasure.
1. As If By Magic: Selected Poems, Paula Meehan
One of Ireland’s premiere living poets, Meehan grew up in Dublin to a working-class family before traveling extensively throughout Europe. This expansiveness is reflected in her poems, which she’s been writing since a student at Trinity College Dublin in the 1970s, revolving around Dublin and its suburbs, but also look outward into the wider world. She’s a poet not quite of contradictions, but of intersections, looking into where nature and man, urban and suburban, man and woman, meet rather than divide. With poems ranging from the ecological and feminist to historical and personal, all are brought forth with her trademark passion and cutting wit that gives way to the utmost compassion and a desire to heal. This collection of poems spans 1991-2016 and includes some of her most courageous pieces—read more praise of Meehan’s Selected Poems here. Her accolades include being shortlisted for “A Poem for Ireland” in 2015 and being named the Ireland Professor of Poetry by Irish President Higgins in 2013.
2. Selected Poems 1968-2014, Paul Muldoon
In the poetry world, Paul Muldoon needs no introduction. With over thirty collections to his name and innumerable prizes (including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry,) he’s an Irish institution. Muldoon grew up in Northern Ireland where his parents worked as a farmer and a teacher, and published his first collection of poetry, Knowing My Place, at the ripe age of 19. Unlike many poets that came into prominence in the 60s and 70s, Muldoon is known for his use of traditional verse forms—though always with twist, innovating by creating a new space within the already existing structure of the poetic tradition. Muldoon’s work can be slippery, elusive, challenging the reader with his subtle humor and love of puns while exploring Irish history, literature, and politics. Though he currently resides in the U.S., Muldoon’s poems are quintessentially Irish at their core: examining the push and pull of identity—personal and communal—through the evocative magic of language.
3. The Unfixed Horizon: New Selected Poems, Medbh McGuckian
Another truly prolific writer with over 20 collections to her name, Medbh (pronounced Maeve) McGuckian was born in Belfast to a family steeped in academics and the arts. She attended Queen’s University for both her BA and MA, eventually returning to the campus as the school’s first ever female writer-in-residence (though early in her career she had to enter a contest under a male pseudonym in order to be considered—she won!) McGuckian’s work concentrates on domestic, internal landscapes, diving into a feminine space with expansive emotional reflection—work that leans heavily toward universal within the personal. In her own words: “I think the waking state is familiar and the dream state uncanny. Poetry is like a bridge between them.” Her awards include an Ireland Arts Council Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and the Forward Poetry Prize, among many others.
4. 100 Poems, Seamus Heaney
A mentor to both Muldoon and McGuckian, Seamus Heaney may be Ireland’s most popular poet of the last 100 years, as well as one of the most revered poets of the last century worldwide. In fact, it’s extremely likely you read his poem, “Digging,” in high school or college (best known for its poetic depiction and veneration of manual labor.) While no longer with us, he was honored in 1995 with the Nobel Prize for Literature while teaching at Oxford, before moving on to teaching at Harvard until 2006. Heaney’s subject matter is what made him appeal to the masses and English teachers alike—most of his work delves into modern Northern Ireland’s landscape, making both the beauty of the land and the struggle of political upheaval feel intensely personal. Heaney is considered the voice of his country—both Northern Ireland and Ireland proper—to many to this day. Click this link to hear Heaney reading “Digging” shortly before his death in 2013.
5. New Collected Poems, Eavan Boland
The insanity of 2020 took many things away from us, and one of those wonderful things was the poet Eavan Boland. Boland was born in Dublin, but spent much of her childhood in London, where her father served as the Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom. She returned to Dublin in 1962 to attend Trinity College Dublin and it was there she published her first collection of poetry as a first year student. It was the beginning of a long and illustrious career for which she received many accolades, including being inducted into the Academy of Arts and Sciences while a professor at Stanford University and the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. Her work concentrated on the female experience in Ireland with an undeniable feminist slant, combining the magic of the Irish landscape and folklore with the real lived experience and oppression of women. She is beloved by the Irish people (and the poetry world) for her unwavering commitment to exposing the troubled place of Irish women in a turbulent history and culture.
Bonus: Careful Cartography, Devon Bohm
Only an Irish poet if you’re counting her heritage and the fact she’s currently employed by SRL Irish Dance Academy, Bohm’s first book of poetry was published in November of 2021 by Cornerstone Press out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as part of their Portage Poetry Series. We’ll let the press tell you more about the collection: “Careful Cartography, the striking debut collection from Devon Bohm, doubles as life writing and poetry. With her detailed geographic narrative, Bohm plots out her autobiography through both external and internal landscapes. Strong in style and voice, these impactful free verse poems create a map through wordscapes that equate to topographical locations, a search culminating in the most elusive and unmappable of locations: a home.” Careful Cartography is available for purchase on both Cornerstone Press’s website and Amazon, for your convenience!
This post is part of a series. Read our modern Ireland post, all about some of Ireland's premiere charities, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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