THERE HAS been much tweeting lately about inclusivity in Irish poetry publishing and reviewing, particularly in relation to women poets. I’m all in favour of giving platforms to poets who are not white heterosexual males.
Every year since its foundation in 2003, the Over The Edge readings I co-curate with Susan Millar DuMars have seen women writers in the majority. Most of the poets I review here are women. Elsewhere, there are a couple of legacy Irish literary institutions which still appear to live in the 1950s.
The main problem with the Irish poetry world in 2020 is no longer women poets not being published and reviewed; it is that the entirely State-funded, and largely unaccountable, Irish poetry establishment is dominated by posh liberals who suppress things they do not like. Your average member of the Irish poetry establishment today is an increasingly frightened Irish Times reader who paid water charges, secretly prefers Irish people (of all genders and colours ) dying of homelessness to the horrid thought of a Left government led by Sinn Féin, and lives mostly on the public purse.
'Though they would start foaming about the lips if you said it to them, the Irish poetry establishment is the literary wing of the exploiter class. It gives us the poetry the landlords and vulture funds want us to have'
Ireland is a country facing a grave social crisis. You would not know it from our main literary festivals which are extravaganzas of complacency at which people who read Kathy Sheridan’s columns, and take them seriously, wander around the place agreeing with each other.
In this context, The Children of the Nation: An Anthology of Working People’s Poetry from Contemporary Ireland, edited by Galway based academic Jenny Farrell, is a revolutionary document. From the opening sentence of Jenny’s introduction, it is clear we are in a different world from those deluded literary festivals: “Just as societies today are rooted in classes, those who exploit and those who are exploited, so too there exist two cultures, divided along the same lines.” Though they would start foaming about the lips if you said it to them straight, the Irish poetry establishment is the literary wing of the exploiter class. It gives us the poetry the landlords and vulture funds want us to have.
The Children of The Nation, taking its title from the radical aspiration for equality in the 1916 Proclamation, contains work by many well known poets such as Gearóid MacLochlainn, Rita Ann Higgins, Celia de Fréine, Gabriel Rosenstock, and Rachel Coventry, but the way Jenny Farrell has put it together, this anthology fundamentally challenges Irish poetry’s official version of itself. There is a poem here about being stopped by the British army in Belfast in 1979, a poem about being a whistleblower, a poem about how eager the State is to push tranquillisers on the inconvenient, a heart tearing poem about a woman alcoholic dying in vividly described squalor, and much more.
Having set herself the task in her introduction of showcasing a contemporary “plebeian, democratic, socialist culture...of the dispossessed”, Jenny Farrell succeeds admirably.