Poetry Ireland Review Issue 125 Editorial

Issue 125

Poetry Ireland Review Issue 125 :

Edited by Eavan Boland

Poetry Ireland Review 125, a bumper expanded summer issue, includes new poems from Derek Mahon, Moya Cannon, Peter Fallon, and Martina Evans, along with new work from Eleni Cay, Patridge Boswell, John W Sexton, Sally Van Doren, and over fifty other poets. New titles reviewed include collections from Douglas Dunn, Carol Rumens, Joan Newmann, Kevin Higgins, Ellen Cranitch, Catherine Ann Cullen, and the late Liam Ó Muirthile, who is remembered with affection in a tribute by Gabriel Rosenstock. Ailbhe McDaid provides an essay on Sara Berkeley's eco-poetics, while this issue's Featured Poet is Toby Buckley, a graduate of the Poetry Ireland Introductions readings in 2018.

Available from 31st July from all good bookstores and online.


In September of last year, Poetry Ireland hosted a focus group of poets, activists, critics, students, and teachers to discuss diversity. The Poetry Ireland team ably co-ordinated an event with many voices and differing perspectives. Earlier in the year, in May 2017, Poetry Ireland had re-stated its commitment to promote the ‘best practice models on diversity and gender balance across all areas of our work’. The focus group was one outcome of this commitment. I was present with others at the discussion in September, as was the American poet Kevin Young. The conversation that day mirrored some of the concerns of the West coast in the US where I work. The issues raised are central now to poetry everywhere. They are issues of inclusion and permission. They already affect many of the emerging poets this journal publishes. So it seems worthwhile to register some of the arguments here.
The conversation in September was informative. The details were often surprising and compelling, and the conversation often eloquent and moving. Poets in the room with an awareness of ethnicity, of gender, of disability, of sexual difference, voiced their sense that their poetry spoke from and should record these realities; poets who valued performance and others who relied on the page spoke about this; poets who led urban workshops and some who fostered online communications described their different knowledges. They advocated for these experiences not only because they formed their identities, but because those identities were forming a richer sense of the poems they wrote.
I was a listener there. Many of the details I didn’t know and wouldn’t presume to comment on. But if I didn’t know the occasion, I certainly knew the conversation. I have known it for a long time. There is no more difficult and no more important ongoing discussion in the arts. Yet anyone who knows the poetry world knows how powerful is the resistance to this conversation about diversity. Many of the holders of conservative opinions see themselves as gate-keepers and hold positions of influence and access: publishers, editors, prize committee members. They are able to resist change under the banner of standards and to marginalize dissent with the argument that these energies amount to little but social engineering. For many emerging poets – poets of colour, of gender diversity, of sexual difference, of aesthetic dissent – this resistance can be daunting. 
Diversity in poetry is interpreted by sceptics as being merely about social change. In reality, it is about formal and artistic renewal. Anyone reading twentieth century poetry from Allen Ginsberg to Adrienne Rich to Medbh McGuckian has to know that the margin re-defines the centre, and not the other way around. But that margin has to be visible, has to be vocal, has to be sustained by new critiques as well as new poems. If not, poetry will be held hostage to outdated critiques in which are coded old resistances. For that reason, diversity has to be recognised and supported. When I was younger, the coded critiques suggesting that the expressive lives of women would distort the Irish poem seemed to me wrong then. And wrong now. The contemporary codes today inferring that diversity is a social project not a poetic one seem equally wrong. 

We need to emphasise the importance of diversity not simply because it’s about the future of society, but because it points to the future of poetry. The old conservative mantra that self-expression is not art leaves a question hanging. Who is to arbitrate that difference? Who is to say when one becomes the other? Without a generous vital conversation about diversity, such as Poetry Ireland is undertaking, the question will remain stalled, mired in divisive and limiting arguments.

Despite my own disagreements with purists in the profession over many years, I’ve often recognised their sincerity, their love for the craft, their deep frustration with what they see as the blurring of lines separating an  old art from a contemporary society. But the past is a safe place; the future a far more unsettled one. For all the present distrust that certainly exists, I hope that the future in poetry will be a shared one where division becomes debate, and a living speech  – open to change – helps to change poetry. 

- Eavan Boland


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