Medbh McGuckian

1950- [née Maeve Teresa Philomena McCaughan]; b. 12 Aug. in Belfast, of nationalist parents, her mother a former telephonist; ed. Holy Family Primary School, Newlington and Dominican Convent, Fortwilliam Park; Queen’s University, Belfast, B.A. 1972, and M.A. thesis on ‘Gothic Influence on Nineteenth Century Anglo-Irish Fiction’, dealing with the Banims, Marim. John McGuckian, a school-teacher, 1977, with whom 3 sons and a daughter; a Edgeworth and William Carleton, 1974; first publ. poem, ‘‘Marriage’’, appeared in Honest Ulsterman (June 1975); teacher at Dominican Convent and St. Patrick’s, Knock, East Belfast;
wrote ‘‘The Flitting’’, a poem submitted pseudonymously under a male name, winning the National Poetry Competition, 1979; Eric Gregory Award, 1980; The Flower Master (1982), won her the Rooney Prize and Alice Hunt Bartlett Award; ed. The Big Striped Golfing Umbrella, an anthology of children’s poetry from Northern Ireland for the Arts Council (1985); first female writer in residence, QUB, 1985-88; much influenced by reading Mandalstam and Rilke; lit. ed., Fortnight, 1989-93[?]; McGuckian was the ‘only girl’lected for inclusion in Paul Muldoon’s Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry of 1986
appt. visiting professor at Berkeley, 1991; Marconi’s Cottage (1991) short-listed for Irish Times/Aer Lingus Award; suffered the death of her father, 1992; gave Creative Writing classes to republican and loyalist prisoners, 1992-94; issued Captain Lavender (1995), with epigraph from Picasso [‘I have not painted the war but I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done’]; asst. ed. on Women’s addendum to The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing; Flower Master (rev. edn. 1994), with alterations in order of poems and revisions of certain lines; writer in residence, University of Ulster (Coleraine), 1995- ;
her Selected Poems, ed. Dillon Johnston & Peter Fallon (1997), became a Poetry Book Society recommendation; Shelmalier (1998), based on events of the 1798 Rebellion; an article of 1998 by Shane Murphy revealed extensive borrowings - whether plagiarism or intertextuality according to critical taste (Irish University Review, Spring/Summer 1998); winner of Forward Poetry Award, 2002; moves between Belfast and Ballycastle; visited the Emmet family of Newtownmountkennedy, Co. Wicklow, and issued Had I a Thousand Lives (2003), on centenary of Emmet and Thomas Russell;
issued new collection, The Currach Requires No Harbours (2006); McGuckian was the focus of events at the Ulster Poetry Symposium, 29th-30th Jan. 2007; issued My Love has Fared Inland (2008), a new collection; her papers are held at Emory University (Atlanta); issued The High Caul Cap (2012); issued Blaris Moore (Sept. 2015), a collection centred on four executed men of 1797; issued The Unfixed Horizon: New Selected Poems (2015), drawing on 14 collections to 2013; Marine Cloud Brightening (2019) includes elegies to Irish poets and to her younger brother; teaches at Heaney Centre of QUB; issued The Thankless Path to Freedom (Feb. 2022), a new collection launched in Great Hall at Queens (Belfast) on 13 Feb. .2023. FDAHAM ORM OCIL ATT DIL

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  • Portrait of Joanna (Belfast: Ulsterman 1980).
  • Single Ladies (Budleigh Salterton: Interim 1980), [pamphlet].
  • The Flower Master (Oxford/NY: OUP 1982), 51pp., rep. as The Flower Master and Other Poems (Oldcastle: Gallery 1993, [rev. edn.] 1994), 58pp.
  • Venus and the Rain (Oxford: OUP 1984), and Do. [rev. edn.] (Oldcastle: Gallery 1995), 53pp.
  • On Ballycastle Beach (Oxford: OUP; Winston-Salem: Wake UP 1988).
  • Two Women, Two Shores, Poems by Medbh McGuckian and Nuala Archer (Galway: Salmon; Baltimore, Md.: New Poets Series 1989).
  • Marconi’s Cottage (Oldcastle: Gallery 1991); Do. (Oldcastle: Gallery 1991; Bloodaxe 1992), 110pp.
  • Captain Lavender (Oldcastle: Gallery Books 1995), rep. as The Flower Master and Other Poems (Oldcastle: Gallery 1993[var. 94]), 58pp.
  • Shelmalier (Oldcastle: Gallery 1998), 118pp.
  • The Face of the Earth (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2002), 82pp.
  • Had I a Thousand Lives (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2003), 88pp.
  • The Book of the Angel (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2004), 88pp.
  • The Currach Requires No Harbours (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2007), 80pp. [30 April 2007]
  • My Love has Fared Inland (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2008), 88pp.
  • The High Caul Cap (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2012), 79pp.
  • Blaris Moore (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2015), 88pp. [Kindle edn. 2018].
  • Love, the Magician (Arlen House 2018),
  • Marine Cloud Brightening (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2019)
  • The Thankless Path to Freedom (Oldcastle: Gallery Press) [COPAC 2022]
Selected Editions
  • Selected Poems, selected by Dillon Johnston and Peter Fallon (Oldcastle: Gallery 1997) [Poetry Book Soc. recommendation].
  • The Unfixed Horizon: New Selected Poems (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2015), 339pp.
  • ‘‘Marriage’’, [poem], Honest Ulsterman, 48-49 (June 1975), [q.p.].
  • ‘‘The Love Game’’, ‘‘Gateposts’’ [poems], Threshold, [guest] ed. John Hewitt, 31 (Autumn-Winter 1980), p.9.
  • ‘‘Black Virgin’’, ‘‘Dividing [sic] the Political Temperature’’, and ‘‘White Windsor Soap’’, in Epoch, 44, 3 (1995), pp.264-68.
  • ‘‘The Silhouette of a Camel’’, [poem for Bill Clinton], in Fortnight Review (Dec. 1995), p.24.
Criticism & articles (sel.)
  • [with Hugh Haughton,] ‘An Eye on the Everyday’, review of Faber Poetry Introduction 5, in Times Literary Supplement (13 Aug. 1982), pp.876.
  • ‘Medhb McGuckian - Telling Men about the Feminine Experience’, Queen’s Letter, 2, 6 (QUB 1986), p.3.
  • ‘The Timely Clapper’, contrib. short piece in “The State of Poetry” [special issue], Gerald Dawe and Jonathan Williams, eds., Krino (Winter 1993), pp.45-46.
  • ‘Death Withstood’, review of Seamus Heaney, The Redress of Poetry, in Fortnight Review, 344 (1995), p.36.
  • review of Homan Potterton, Irish Arts Review, in Fortnight, 339 (May 1995), p.34 [focuses on three Irish women artists].
  • poem [ded. Seamus Heaney], in Irish Times (7 Nov. 1995) [the morning following the announcement of the Nobel Award to Heaney].
  • ‘Belfast Quarters’, on some distinctive city neighbourhoods, see ‘Whose City?’, supplement with Fortnight, 381 (March 1996), [q.p.].
  • ‘Drawing Ballerinas: How Being Irish has Influenced Me as a Writer’, in Lizz Murphy, ed., We Girls: Women Writing from an Irish Perspective (Australia: Spinifex 1996), pp.185-203.
  • The Poetry Quartets, 4 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1999) [double cassette of Durcan, Kennelly, Longley, McGuckian talking about their poetry].
  • Horsepower Pass By!: A Study of the Car in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney (Coleraine: Cranagh 1999), 38pp.
  • Mitsuko Ohno, ‘Hokusai, Basho, Zen and More: Japanese Influences on Irish Poets’, in Journal of Irish Studies (IASIL-Japan), XVII (2002), pp.15-31 [questionaire-response].
  • ed., The Big Striped Golfing Umbrella: An Anthology of Children’s Poetry from Northern Ireland (Arts Council of Northern Ireland 1985).
  • trans., with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, The Water Horse, by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (2002).
  • “Poems”, in Last Before America - Irish and American Writing: Essays in Honour of Michael Allen, ed. Fran Brearton & Eamonn Hughes ( Belfast : Blackstaff Press 2001), p.203.
  • with Paul Durcan, Brendan Kennelly & Michael Longley [Poetry Quartets, 4] (London: British Council / Bloodaxe Books 1999), 2 audio cass. [113 mins. - talking about their poetry].
Note: A poetry collection entitled The McGildowney Marine Band [Lapwing Poetry Pamphlet, No. 10] (Belfast Lapwing 1992, 32pp.) is listed in COPAC as the work of John McGuckian but cf. prev. reference to MacIldowney Marine Band [?1977] by Mebdh McGuckian. Also by John McGuckian: Star and Sparrow Rest (Kilcar, Co. Donegal: Summer Palace Press 2008), 64pp. and Talking With My Brother (Kilcar, Co. Donegal: Summer Palace Press, 2002), 64pp.
[See COPAC/Library Discover Hub - online; accessed 03.03.2020.]

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Full-length studies
  • Shane Alcobia-Murphy & Richard Kirkland, eds., The Poetry of Medbh McGuckian: The Interior of Words (Cork UP 2010), x, 272pp. [see contents].
  • Michaela Schrage-Früh, Emerging Identities: Myth, Nation and Gender in the Poetry of Eavan Boland, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and Medbh McGuckian [Mainz University Studies in English, Bd. 7 MUSE] (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität) (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier 2004), 228pp.
  • Maureen Ruprecht Fadem, Silence and Articulacy in the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian (NY: Rowan & Littlefield 2019), 310pp. [see contents].
  • Shance Alcobia-Murphy, Medbh McGuckian: The Poetics of Exemplarity [AHRC Centre of Irish & Scottish Studies] (Aberdeen UP 2012), 202pp.
Articles & chapters, &c.
  • Michael Allen, ‘Barbaric Yawp, Gibbous Voice’ [review], Venus and the Rain, in Honest Ulsterman, 77 (1984), pp.56-64.
  • James Simmons, review of Venus and the Rain, in Belfast Review, 8 (Autumn 1984), p.7 .
  • Tim Dooley, ‘Soft Cushionings’, review of Medhh McGuckian, The Flower Master, in Times Literary Supplement (29 Oct. 1982), p.1200.
  • Alan Jenkins, ‘Hearts in the Right Place’ [review], On Ballycastle Beach, in Observer (10 July 1988), p.33.
  • Clair Wills, ‘The Perfect Mother: Authority in the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian’, in Text and Context, 3 (Autumn 1988), pp.91-111 [see extract].
  • Blake Morrison, ‘Tropical Storms’ [review], Venus and the Rain, in London Review of Books (6-19 Sept. 1984), pp.22-23.
  • Clair Wills, ‘Voices from the Nursery: Medbh McGuckian’s Plantation’, in Poetry in Contempory Irish Literature, ed. Michael Kenneally (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1995) [cp.375; see extract].
  • Michael O’Neill, ‘Bidding for Power’ [review], Venus and the Rain, in Times Literary Supplement (30 Nov. 1984), p.1393.
  • Patrick Ramsey, ‘Quality and Quantity’ [review], in The Irish Review, 5 (Autumn 1988), pp.122-26.
  • Anne Stevenson, ‘With Eyes Open and Closed’ [review], in Portrait of Joanna, in Times Literary Supplement (21 Aug. 1981), p.952.
  • Williams, Patrick, ‘Spare That Tree!’ [review], On Ballycastle Beach, in Honest Ulsterman, 86 (1989), pp.49-52.
  • Clair Wills, ‘Country Feelings’ [review], On Ballycastle Beach, in Times Literary Supplement (19-25 Aug. 1988), p.915.
  • Martin Mooney, ‘Body Logic, Some Notes on the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian’, Gown Literary Supplement (1988), pp.16-18.
  • Kathleen McCracken ‘An Attitude of Compassion’, [interview], Irish Literary Supplement, 9 (Fall 1990), pp.20-21.
  • ‘Medbh McGuckian’ [interview], in Gillian Somerville-Arjat and Rebecca E. Wilson, eds., Sleeping with Monsters: Conversations with Scottish and Irish Women Poets (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1990), pp.1-7 [extract].
  • Thomas Docherty, ‘Initiations, Tempers, Seductions, Postmodern McGuckian’, in The Chosen Ground, Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, ed. Neil Corcoran (Bridgend: Seren Books 1992), pp.191-210 [see extract].
  • Patrick Crotty, review of Marconi’s Cottage, in Irish Times, 7 March 1992 [cited in Mary O’Connor ‘The Thieves of Language?’, in Krino, Spring 1994, pp.30-42.
  • Marion Lomax, ‘Gendered Writing and the Writer’s Stylistic Identity’, in Katie Wales, ed., Feminist Linguistics in Literary Criticism [for the English Association; Gen. Ed., D. S. Brewer] (Essays and Studies 1994), pp.1-19 [see extract].
  • Kimberly S. Bohman, œSurfacing: An Interview with Medbh McGuckian’, in The Irish Review, 16 (Autumn/Winter 1994), pp.95-108.
  • Clair Wills, ‘Medbh McGuckian’, in Improprieties: Politics and Sexuality in Northern Irish Poetry (OUP 1993) [incls. ‘Medbh McGuckian: Personal Interviews with Clair Wills’, 10 Jan. 1986, 20 Nov. 1986 & 19 June 1988].
  • Susan Shaw Sailer, interview, in Michigan Quarterly Review [q.iss.] (1993) 111-23 [see extract].
  • Thomas MacCarthy, reviewing the rev. edn. of The Flower Master (Gallery 1993), in Poetry Ireland, 41 [‘Sexuality’ Special Issue] (Spring 1994), pp.69ff.
  • Eileen Cahill, ‘,“Because I Never Garden: Medbh McGuckian’s Solitary Way”’,, in Irish University Review, 24, 2 (1994), pp.264-271.
  • Allison Rolls, review of Marconi’s Cottage, in Krino (Spring 1994) [q.pp.].
  • Niall McGrath, ‘The McGuckian Enigma, Interview with Medbh McGuckian’, in Causeway (Summer 1994), pp.67-70.
  • Laura O’Connor [Foreword & Afterword], ‘Comhrá: Medbh McGuckian and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’, in The Southern Review: Special Issue on Irish Poetry, V, 31, 3 (1995), pp.581-614 [see extract].
  • Clair Wills, ‘Voices from the Nursery: Medbh McGuckian’s Plantation’, in Poetry in Contemporary Irish Literature, ed. Michael Kenneally [Studies in Contemporary Irish Literature, 2; Irish Literary Studies, 43] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1995), pp.373-99.
  • Michael Allen, ‘The Poetry of Medbh McGuckian’, in Elmer Andrews, ed., Contemporary Irish Poetry: A Collection of Critical Essays (London: Macmillan 1996), pp.286-309.
  • Mary O’Connor, Medbh McGuckian’s Destabilising Poetic, in Éire-Ireland, XXX, 4 (Winter 1996), pp.154-72.
  • Rand Brandes, ‘A Dialogue with Medbh McGuckian in Winter 1996-1997’, in Studies in the Literary Imagination, 30, 2 (Fall 1997), pp.37-62.
  • Shane Murphy, ‘“You Took Away My Biography”: The Poetry of Medbh McGuckian’, in Irish University Review, 28, 1 (Spring/Summer 1998), pp.110-50 [revealing extent of intertextual debts].
  • Michael Laskey & Carol Rumens, “The Birthday of Monday” [poem]: Two Readings of the Poem’, in Éigse Eire/Poetry Ireland Review, 62 (Autumn 1999), pp.12-26 [Laskey, ‘Its Name has Not Explained’, pp.19-22; Rumens, ‘Words Unsoftened’, pp.23-26].
  • Jolanta Burgoyne-Johnson, Bleeding the Boundaries: The Poetry of Medbh McGuckian (Coleraine: Cranagh Press 1999), 41pp.
  • Alexander G. Gonzalez, ed., Contemporary Irish Women Poets: Some Male Perspectives (Westport/London: Greenwood 1999) [contains Gonzalez, ‘Celebrating the Richness of Medbh McGuckian’s Poetry: Close Analysis of Six Poems from The Flower Master’, and Charles L. O’Neill, ‘Mebdh McGuckian’s Poetry: Inhabiting the Image’, pp.65-78].
  • Danielle Sered, ‘The Destination of a Rhyme’: Elusiveness and Theft in the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian [Working papers in Irish studies] (Ft. Lauderdale: Nova Southeastern University 2001), 13pp. [i.e., allusions].
  • Mitsuko Ohno, ‘Hokusai, Basho, Zen and More: Japanese Influences on Irish Poets’, in Journal of Irish Studies (IASIL-Japan), XVII (2002), pp.15-31.
  • Naoko Toraiwa, ‘Translation as an Exit: Medbh McGuckian’s On Ballycastle Beach’, in Journal of Irish Studies [IASIL-Japan], XVII (2002), pp.34-47 [see extract].
  • John Brown, In the Chair: Interview with Poets from the North of Ireland (Galway: Salmon Press 2002) [q.pp.].
  • Helen Blakeman, ‘Metaphor and Metonymy in Medbh McGuckian’s Poetry.’, in Critical Survey, 14.2 (2002), pp.61-74.
  • Guinn Batten, ‘Boland, McGuckian, Ní Chuilleanáin and the Body of the Nation’, in The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry, ed. Matthew Campbell (Cambridge UP 2003), pp.169-88 [incls. Shane Murphy, ‘Sonnets, Centos and Long Lines: Muldoon, Paulin, McGuckian and Carson’, pp.189-208].
  • Leontia Flynn, ‘The Life of the Author: Medbh McGuckian and Her Critics’, in New Voices in Irish Criticism, 4, ed. Fionnula Dillane & Ronan Kelly (Dublin: Four Courts 2003), pp.159-66.
  • Shane Murphy, ‘Sonnets, Centos, and Long Lines: Muldoon, Paulin, McGuckian and Carson’, in The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry, ed. Matthew Campbell (Cambridge UP 2003), pp.189-208.
  • María Jesús Lorenzo Modia, ‘An Interview with McGuckian’, in The European English Messenger, 13, 2 (Autumn 2004), pp.35-43 [with bibl., and cover port.; see extract].
  • J. Edward Mallot, ‘Medbh McGuckian’s Poetic Tectonics’, in Eire-Ireland, 40, 3&4 (2005), pp.240-55.
  • Michaela Shrage-Früh, ‘An Interview with Medbh McGuckian’, in Contemporary Literature, 46, 1 (2005), pp.1-17.
  • Lorenzo Modia, Maria Jesús. ‘“Because God is Forbidden to Perform Miracles in this Place”: Medbh McGuckian’s Sense of History’, in Thistles: A Homage to Brian Hughes - Essays in Memoriam [Homenaje a Brian Hughes: Ensayos in Memoriam] , Vol. 2, ed. Francisco Yus (Universidad de Alicante 2005), pp.175-85.
  • Fred Johnston, review of The Book of the Angel, in omnibus review [McGuckian, Wyley, Cronin], Books Ireland (March 2005), p.51 [see extract.
  • Shane Alcobia-Murphy, Sympathetic Ink: Intertextual Relations in Northern Irish Poetry (Liverpool UP 2006), 284pp. [on Heaney, Muldoon & McGuckian].
  • Nessa O’Mahony, ‘From colour-coded messages to skilful portraits’, review of Medbh McGuckian, The Currach Requires No Harbours [et al.], in The Irish Times (14 April 2007), Weekend Review, p.12 [see extract].
  • Niamh Hehir, ‘“I am unable even / To contain myself”: The Maternal Threshold of Subjectivity in Medbh McGuckian’s The Flower and Other Poems’, in Essays In Irish Literary Criticism: Themes of Gender, Sexuality, and Corporeality, ed. Deirdre Quinn & Sharon Tighe-Mooney (Lampeter: Mellen Press 2008), q.pp.
  • Shane-Alcobia-Murphy, ‘Strange Little Girls?: Medbh McGuckian’s Poetics of Exemplarity’, in The Irish Review, Nos. 40-41, ed. Aaron Kelly [Cork UP] (Dec. 2009), pp. 74-90.
  • Leontia Flynn, ‘On the Sofa: Parody & McGuckian’, in Irish Poetry After Feminism, ed. Justin Quinn [Princess Grace Irish Lectures, 10] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2008) [q.pp.].
  • Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, ‘Medbh McGuckian: The Lyric of Gendered Space’, in Writing Home: Poetry and Place in Northern Ireland, 1968-2008 (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer 2008), pp.225-48.
  • Moynagh Sullivan on “On Her Second birthday” by Medbh McGuckian, in Irish University Review: A Journal of Irish Studies [Special Irish Poetry Issue, guest ed. Peter Denman] (Sept. 2009), pp.320-32 [see full text in Ricorso Library “Journals > Critical > IUR” - see extract.
  • Hugh McFadden, review of The Poetry of Medbh McGuckian, in Books Ireland (Sept. 2010), pp.175-76.
  • Lucy Collins, ‘Joyful Mysteries: Language and Spirituality in Medbh McGuckian’s Recent Poetry’, in Irish Women Writers: New Critical Perspectives, ed. Elke d’Hoker, et al. ([Intern.] Peter Lang 2011), q.pp.
  • Niamh Hehir, ‘“I have grown inside words/Into a state of unbornness”: Evocations of a Pre-linguistic Space of Meaning in Medbh McGuckian’s Poetry’, in Irish Women Writers: New Critical Perspectives, ed. Elke d’Hoker, et al. ([Intern.] Peter Lang 2011), q.pp.
  • Eric Falci, ‘McGuckian’s histories’, Continuity and Change in Irish Poetry, 1966-2010 (Cambridge UP 2012) [Chap. 3].
  • Leontia Flynn, ‘Domestic Violences: Medbh McGuckian and Irish Women’s Writing in the 1980s’, in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry, ed. Fran Brearton & Alan Gillis (Oxford: OUP 2012), pp.417-[35].
  • Stephanie Schwerter, Northern Irish Poetry and the Russian Turn: Intertextuality in the Work of Seamus Heaney, Tom Paulin and Medbh McGuckian (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2013), x, 251pp.
  • Reading Medbh McGuckian (Dublin: Irish Academic Press 2014) [see details].
  • Maureen E. Ruprecht Fadem, ‘Outlining Silence in the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian’, in The Literature of Northern Ireland: Spectral Borderlands (London: Palgrave Macmillan 2015), pp.99-135 [see extract].
See also general studies
  • Clair Wills, Improprieties: Politics and Sexuality in Northern Irish Poetry (Oxford: OUP 1993), 272pp. [readings of Tom Paulin, Medbh McGuckian, and Paul Muldoon].
  • Lucy Collins, ‘Medbh McGuckian’s Radical Temporalities’, in Contemporary Irish Women Poets: Memory and Estrangement (Liverpool UP 2016), Chap. 5. .
  • Cover; Contents; Acknowledgements; Abbreviations; Introduction: Memory, Estrangement and the Poetic Text; I: Concepts - 1. Lost Lands: The Creation of Memory in the Poetry of Eavan Boland; 2. Between Here and There: Migrant Identities and the Contemporary Irish Woman Poet; 3. Private Memory and the Construction of Subjectivity in Contemporary Irish Women's Poetry; II: Achievements - 4. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s Spaces of Memory; 5, Medbh McGuckian’s Radical Temporalities; 6. Catherine Walsh: A Poetics of Flux; 7. Vona Groarke: Memory and Materiality; Conclusion: Memories of the Future ; Bibliography
  • Clair Wills, “Language, History and Sex in the poetry of Paul Muldoon and Medbh McGuckian” [D.Phil diss.] (Oxford 1989), 296pp.
  • Deryn Elizabeth Rees-Jones, “Body in Mind: Meanings and Metaphors of Female Anatomy and the Quest for Creative Identity in Women’s Poetry, with Special Attention to the Work of Medbh McGuckian” [M.A. Diss.] (Wales: Bangor University 1992), q.pp.
  • Catriona Clutterbuck, "Self-representation and the politics of authority in contemporary Irish poetry: Eavan Boland and Medbh McGuckian" [D.Phil diss.] (Oxford University 1996), v, 277pp.
  • L[eontia] M. Flynn, “Reading Medbh McGuckian” [PhD Diss.] (Belfast: QUB 2004) - another copy at British Library; also available on World Wide Web.

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Bibliographical details

Shane Alcobia-Murphy & Richard Kirkland, eds., The Poetry of Medbh McGuckian: The Interior of Words (Cork UP 2010), 272pp. CONTENTS: Alcobia-Murphy, Introduction; Michaela Schrage-Früh, Speaking as the North: Self and Place in the Early Poetry of Medbh McGuckian; Catriona Clutterbuck, A Gibbous Voice: The Poetics of Subjectivity in the Early Poetry of Medbh McGuckian; Helen Blakeman, “Poetry Must Almost Dismantle the Letters”: McGuckian, Mallarmé and Polysemantic Play; Elin Holmsten, Signs of Encounters in Medbh McGuckian’s Poetry; Scott Brewster, The Space that Cleaves: The House and Hospitality in Medbh McGuckian’s Work; Conor Carville, Warding Off an Epitaph: Had I a Thousand Lives; Alcobia-Murphy: “That Now Historical Ground”: Memory and Atrocity in the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian [prev. in IUR, Summer 1998]; Kirkland, Medbh McGuckian and the Politics of Minority Discourse; Borbola Farrago, “They Come Into It”: The Muses of Medbh McGuckian; Leontia Flynn, Re-assembling the Atom: Reading Medbh McGuckian’s Intertextual Materials; Alcobia-Murphy & Kirkland, Interview with Medbh McGuckian; Clair Wills, Coda.

Leontia Flynn, Reading Medbh McGuckian (Dublin: Irish Academic Press 2014) - CONTENTS: Author’s Note; Introduction; Ch. 1: ‘Not Sacrificed to Plot ... ’; Ch. 2: ‘This Oblique Trance is My Natural Way of Speaking ... ’. Ch. 3: ‘A Hill Wind Blows at the Book’s Edges / To Open a Page ...’; Ch.04: ‘Clear Cut from Another World, as if Translating ...’; Ch.5: ‘The War Degree’; Conclusion; ‘Reading in a Library’; Bibliography; Index. [Orig. as PhD, QUB 2004).

Maureen Ruprecht Fadem, Silence and Articulacy in the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian (NY: Rowan & Littlefield 2019), 310pp. CONTENTS. Foreword: Reckoning With (Women’s) Silence(s): The Work of Poetry; Chapter 1: Home Is Where the Border Is: The Poetry of Medbh McGuckian; Introduction, Part I : Poetics of Silence: Language, Image, Voice; Chapter 2: Silence - Speaking: The Secret-Spoken Language of Partition; Chapter 3: Text / Image: Ut pictura poïesis; Chapter 4: Textuality / Intertextuality: Embedded Contingencies and the Tyranny of (Postcolonial) Comparativity; Introduction, Part II: Economies of Speaking: Production, Consumption, Conjuring; Chapter 5: Poesis / Poïema: “Deep in your snow”: Coming to Be Located ; Chapter 6: Privated / Worlded: “Absolutely not hermetic”: Iterations of Silence and the Borders of Articulacy; Afterword: History / Prosody: The Poet as Conjure Artist. (See under Notes - infra.)

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Clair Wills, ‘The Perfect Mother: Authority in the Poetry of Mebdh McGuckian’, in Text and Context, 3 (Autumn 1988), p.109: ‘McGuckian seems to wish to set up a new symbolic order, a “less official” faith which she can follow. In order to create this new symbolic order she takes on the role of both mother and priest.’ (Quoted in Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.53.)

Clair Wills, ‘Voicesfrom the Nursery: Medbh McGuckian’s Plantation’, in Poetry in Contemporary Irish Literature, Michael Kenneally (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1995): ‘To take her place in an Irish poetic tradition in some senses “enabled” by the troping of motherhood as a public image, [she] must “divert” the tradition through the “domestic”, since the discourse of sexuality is the only “public” language to which, as a woman writer, she had legitimate access.’ (p.375.)

Thomas Docherty, ‘Initiations, Tempers, Seductions, Postmodern McGuckian’, in Neil Corcoran, ed., The Chosen Ground:Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland (Bridgend: Seren Books 1992), pp.191-210: collocated her poetic with Deleuze, and emphasises her reliance on dictionary reading; ‘One might immediately be tempted to think of On Ballycastle Beach (1988) as McGuckian’s North, for its title refers to a geographical location at one of the northernmost points of Ireland, in County Antrim. But once again, if the reader searches here for the kind of explicit or mythic politics found in other contemporary Irish poets, she or he will be disappointed. These poems are organised around a “French-born” idea, le temps perdu. Temps, meaning both time and weather, allows McGuckian a trope which organises poems obsessed with seasonal change. Here, it is as if the rituals which interest her are the pagan rites which have been latent in all her writing. There is also here a governing figure of “seduction” or temptation [sic], as if the texts were written by a Lilith figure, and as if the texts were an attempt, or essay, at constructing a literary lineage deriving from Eve and her apples.’ (p.193); ‘[...] if one were to look for precedessors for McGuckian, it would be an error to search among the Irish poets of the twentieth century. In terms of linguistic styles, she has more in common with both nineteenth-century decadence and with twentieth -century surrealism, both internationalist movements. Much of her imagery could be derived from Neruda or Aragon rather than Clarke or Kavanagh. Yet there is one way in which she overlaps with a thematics of flight which dominates much Irish writing in this century’ [going on to cite Yeats and Heaney] (p.207); ‘Her sentences meander from étrangeté to bizarrerie, dislocating metaphor and being “easily carried away” in this language which is dictated by no consciousness, and leaving a reader stranded in flight from multivalent realities.’ (p.209).

Marion Lomax, ‘GenderedWriting and the Writer’s Stylistic Identity’, in Katie Wales,ed., Feminist Linguistics in Literary Criticism [for the English Association; Gen. Ed., D. S. Brewer] (Essays & Studies 1994), pp.1-19,incl. comments on McGuckian: ‘Much of the poetry of the NorthernIrish poet, Medbh McGuckian, for example, would seem to be based onelements which Kristeva identifies. Yet, when a writer appears to bein line with a theory it is easy (and would be unwise) to forget thatthe writer’s own, individual needs came first.’ Cites BlakeMorrison: ‘Her poetry is rhapsodic in its rhythms and often surrealisticin its imagery - describing what it means is never very easy’ (‘Contemp.Poets’, Independent on Sunday, 11 April 1993, p.34); continues:‘Perhaps this is because the non-signifying processes have become part of the meaning.[...] McGuckian strives to articulate ideas which resistdefinition in the usual way - depths and nuances of emotion, spirituality- so her style is likely to stem directly from the need to find a powerfulmeans of expression in specific instances and would not, then, springfrom a conscious effort on her art to adopt a particular writing mode’;adds commentary on the poem “Field Heart” [printed on the same page]; ends comments on McGuckian: ‘in the case of Irish writers in English and others who have a complex linguistic heritage, what Kristeva calls traces of the semiotic may also be associated with features ofa buried mother tongue.’ (pp.6-8).

Naoko Toraiwa, ‘Translation as an Exit: Medbh McGuckian’s On Ballycastle Beach, in Journal of Irish Studies [IASIL-Japan], XVII (2002), pp.34-47, ‘explores the possibility that [the] desire for exit is connected to the fact that since the mid-1980s, the worek of translation has been growing in Ireland’ and looks in particular at McGuckian’s translation reading of [...] Marina Tsvetsaeva’, arguing ‘that it is intimeatley connected with her nightmarish search for an exit from the intolerable conditions of her third book.’ Toraiwa notes verbal echoes of Tsvetaeva’s letters to Pasternak and quotes extensively from “Little House, Big House” (On Ballycastle Beach, p.32; paper delivered at IASIL International Conference, DCU, July 2001).

Maureen Ruprecht Fadem, ‘Outling Silence in the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian’, in The Literature of Northern Ireland: Spectral Borderlands (London & NY: Palgrave 2015), pp.99-135 [Chap. 3]:

pp.99-100 available at Palgrave - online accessed 28.09.2020.
—See also Michele Holmgren, review of Maureen Ruprecht Fadem, The Literature of Northern Ireland: Spectral Borderlands (London & NY: Palgrave 2015), in Ariel: Review of International English Literature (Jan.-April 2016), 402-04; available at ResearchGate [online] & Questia [online]; accessed 28.09.2020.

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Eamon Grennan, review in Poetry Ireland Review, No.46 (1995), writes: ‘McGuckian’s poems are as expressive of their fractured environment in as full and as complex a way … as are the poems of Carson and Muldoon and Heaney and Mahon.’ (p.116.)

Maurice Harmon reviews The Brazen Serpent,with other poets and collections, in ‘Writing for the Gallery’,Books Ireland (Oct. 1995), and examines a poem, ‘We learn,in short, to trust the images, not to resist just because of worriesabout inaccuracy or apparent inappropriateness. Indeed we begin to appreciatea way of writing that makes images and metaphors slightly askew. Wecannot take things for granted and this is one of McGuckian’s strengths.’(Books Ireland, Oct. 1995, p.250.)

Kathy Cremin [Centre for Women’s Studies, York Univ.], reviews Venus and the Rain, On Ballycastle Beach, and Captain Lavender [Gallery Press; dates resp. 1994, 1995, and 1994 [sic], in Irish Studies Review (Spring 1996), 48-50; “Captain Lavender” called a personal and political meditation on death; unusually politically forthright [‘the flowers I picked were a bloodstream/I was standing in’]; McGuckian takes the notion of a secret political organisation and feminises it, clearly signalling her intention of sexualising narratives of Irish political life; ‘sperm names, ovum names, pushed inside /each other. We are half-taught/our real names, from other lives’; major thematic shift in Captain Lavender; Venus and the Rain focuses on maternity and marriage as locations for female fertility and creativity; Ballycastle Beach goes beyond these boundaries to explore other lineages and kinships; with Lavender she returns to emphasise the importance of the parent, this time the father; engages in an inverse subject-position, that of the grieving daughter, and throughout this volume everything has become inverted; as in ‘Black Virgin’ [where] dead father becomes a virgin, then a baby, and through whom the poet ‘a military railway’, learns sight and sound [&c.]

Oonagh Warke, reviewing [Shelmalier] inBooks Ireland (May 1998), find that the lines in “The Aisling Hat”, for all that she sometimes has inklings as to what the poemis conveying, ‘leave me more bewildered than enlightened’ [quotes]:‘Over your face a cognac eagleskin / was tightly stretched, my cart-horse,/ dray-horse, drew your heavy chariot / chasing after time you beat aloud / which had already vanished into overtones: you were his so-discoverer, his museum [...]’ (Books Ireland, p.128f.)

Caitriona Clutterbuck, ‘Watchful as a Lighthouse’, review of Medbh McGuckian, Selected Poems (Gallery 1997), in The Irish Review (Summer 1998), pp.179-78: ‘McGuckian’s sensitivity to the desire for coherence in Irish culture in a chief attribute of her work. Her own poetry has fast become a local focus of this desire for stability, which underlies Irish lip-service to the benefits of stabiity. Within the contemporary canon, a tradition of McGuckian criticism has developed whereby her work is treated as an elaborate version of semantic “I spy”, in which victory has permaturely been claimed by women, or particularly deterministic male critics, but which no-one can really win. Thus her poetry is subtly discounted by being diagnosed as the material of intriguing but ultimately dissatisfying game playing. But the assumption that McGuckian’s focus is on either the truth (feminine or [178] otherwise) or its absence, is an under-reading of the self-reflexive strategies of her poetry - instead her focus is on the processes of arriving at truth. / Meaning in a McGuckian poem, as the critic Clair Wills has authoritatively argued, comes about as an irregular and unpredictable unfolding where each element is capable of catalysing or giving birth to its fellow. This technical strategy has important implications in the context of Northern Ireland: it is possible to read the underlying principle of her poetry as being the that identity is not so much permitted or suppressed by another, as it is inevitably released from inside that other and vice versa. [… &c.]’

Catriona O’Reilly, reviewing Shelmalier (1999) in The Irish Times [Jan. 30th 1999], writes: ‘McGuckian’s themes are frequently lost in the self-conscious gorgeousness of her constructions: expressions about 1798 or present-day political strife run the risk of begin too personalised to interest the reader, and her amorphous metaphoricity can lead to some iunintenionally ludicrous effects [...] There are moments of utter impenetrability and grammatical sloppiness, as from this stanza from “The Feastday of Peace”: “Their lace-curtain Irish / anchoring the moon-lines / along the twisted sea-coast / chafes like a boat / in a sky-voyage the English meaning so unlike language.” One is hard pressed to know exactly what McGuckian is on about here. [… &c.]’; also speaks of the phrase ‘a meanic sky anastomoses’ in “Using the Cushion” as ‘an incongruous and pretentious obstacle to understanding in this short lyric’ which ‘send[s] her readers scurrying to their dictionaries’.

Fred Johnston, reviewingShelmalier, in Books Ireland (April 1999), p.94: quotes intro., ‘I owe the idea of this book to Jane Leonard, of the UlsterMuseum, who suggested that I should read up on the 1798 Rebellion witha view to writing a poem about it … I found that what I had writenin the form of epitaph and commemoration or address for the present-daydisturbances in the North fitted like an egg into its shell that previouswhirlwind moment when, unbelievably, hope and history did in fact rhyme.’The review concludes, ‘in the end I’m not sure that any fruitfulcomparisons, poetic or otherwise, can be drawn between the events of 1798 and those of more recent years however scrupulous or intelligently devised.’

Fred Johnston, reviewing McGuckian, Venus and the Rain (Gallery reiss. 2001) [‘revised’], in Books Ireland (Sept. 2001), questions whether the poetry is not sometimes obscure: ‘I do believe - though it may be sensibly argued that we don’t always have to know what a poem means ot enjoy it - that it quite often rambles, in love with its own sound, like someone overheard out for a walk humming a tune whose sens eone can only guess at as one passes by. Pleasing to the hummer, surely; to the listener unfathomable.’ Quotes with approbation: ‘He could not leave his own voice alone; / He took it apart, he undressed it, / I suppose the way that women clear their faces, / So that some light is still able to love them.’ Asks: ‘Do we consider McGuckian to be a sensuous poet. I think we should [...]’ (p.215.)

Fred Johnston, ‘No Intellectual Tradition’,review of The Book of the Angel [with works of other poets],in Books Ireland (March 2005), p.51: cites the blurp’ contentionthat the poem deals with Agape and Eros from ‘the millenial standpointto contemplate the eternally unfathomable mystery of Incarnation’.‘[...] This approaches the nature of music and departs formthe nature of language. McGuckian seems to have shut her eyes and imagedword-images without direction, thought-processes juiced into language,a kind of automatic writing. [...] Having said that, her thickly layered imaginative cvoice is unique in Irish poetry, and it is notenough merely to dismiss it on the ground that one doesn’t immediately comprehend it. [Compares McGuckian’s poems to paintings of Louisle Brocquy and quotes his dictum, ‘art is neither an instrumentnor a convenience, but a secret logic of the imagination.’] / McGuckian’s meanings are often consummately personal. When that happens in poetry,when a poet writes in tonguees only he or she can decipher, he needsmust end up talking to himself.’ Criticises several passages for’dreadfully clumsy’ choice of words and exempts title-poem(“Angel with Blue Wings”: ‘Oversoft your eye, your hand / the heldness and stillness / of your seated step, / fingerprints and palmprints large/against a body felt as pale / in the first stages of resurrection.’):‘[...] the poem is about transcendence and works because it doesn’t try to heard to make us state into a kaleidoscope to seea sunset. Essentially this is a strong enough McGuckian collection, a spiritual poem perhaps in the way any poet endeavours to understand the term and strive towards it to escape the ordinary.’

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Nuala Ní Dhomnaill ‘explains who she picked, and why’ (feature-article on Duffy & Dorgan, eds., Watching the River Flow: A Century of Irish Poetry [anthology], in The Irish Times, Weekend, 27 Nov. 1999) - quotes Ciaran Carson on McGuckian: ‘There is no one like McGuckian writing in the English language, and we should be grateful for her ornate and ambiguous presence. Too often, I have been asked, “But what does it all mean?” You might as well ask what Charlie Parker “means”. He means music. McGuckian means poetry and as she put is it Shelmalier, “This great estrangement has the destiny of a rhyme.” (Verse, Vol. 16, No. 2).

Nessa O’Mahony,‘From colour-coded messages to skilful portraits’, reviewof The Currach Requires No Harbours [et al.] (14 April 2007),Weekend Review, p.12. ‘[...] The experience of reading MedbhMcGuckian’s poetry can be somewhat like that [i.e., viewing workby Kandinsky, who ‘developed his theory that colour could stimulateemotion in the same way that classical music could’ - creatinga response that was ‘visceral rather than intellectual’.]She is a writer who creates images of haunting beauty using languagethat resists easy interpretation. She herself has described her techniqueas “like embroidery”. In a 1990 interview with Rebecca Wilson she said: “I take an assortment of words, though not exactly atrandom, and I fuse them”; her latest collection, The CurrachRequires No Harbours, once again offers the reader a work of richlyconfusing threads. / So what can the reader use to navigate her wayinto the poems? Colour, for one. The critic Peggy O’Brien has calledMcGuckian’s use of colour “a readable shorthand”, andhere the poet continues to use colour as a type of private code. Mostof the poems in this collection refer to various hues, with blue a recurringtint; in “Catherine’s Blue” we read of the “shell-coveredeyes, eaten up / by the blue that marked a local saint”; thereis the “coal-derived blues” of “Bleu de Paris” orthe “false blue” in “The Wrens of the Curragh”.There is, in fact, an entire and often startling spectrum, from the“lime / and red” of “My Must” and the “pearl-grey/wood the sea throws up on beaches” in “Three Legged Angel”to the “brown-violet sea” of “Medieval Scriptorium”./The recurrence of colour, along with images of angels, haloes, sculpturesand religious artefacts contained in these poems, reassures the reader that there is some pattern here, some overall meaning to be wrested from the gorgeous if opaque language. As with the abstractions of Kandinsky,we must trust the mood evoked by the arrangement of words on the page rather than strain after their meaning.’ (See full text in RICORSOLibrary, "Criticism > Reviews", via indexor direct.)

Moynagh Sullivan on “On Her Second Birthday” by Medbh McGuckian, in Irish University Review: A Journal of Irish Studies [Special Irish Poetry Issue, guest ed. Peter Denman] (Sept. 2009), pp.320-32 [opening]: ‘Medbh McGuckian’s beautiful poetry has many fine readers, but the presence of maternal jouissance in her earlier writing often produced accusations of wilful obscurity, or glowing critiques that nonetheless have circled around the averred unknowability of her work. Multiple vertices of being, with competing energies and impulses, produce a powerful affect that is commonly understood by critics as fostering impenetrability as an end in itself. Even many of her most admiring critics seem resigned that mystification, evasiveness, and converse currents are part of the poetry’s magic, but not its meaning. The poet-critic, Justin Quinn, who has himself advanced convincing arguments about the relevance of McGuckian’s work, has noted that, ‘two generations of critics have been baffled by her poetry and are uncertain of its subject on a simple denotative level’. At least one reader who has resisted the temptation to mystify McGuckian’s poetry is the critic, Guinn Batten, who remains one of her most incisive commentators. Writing about McGuckian’s, “On her Second Birthday”, Batten reads the poem as written in the voice of the daughter and argues that it complicates the use of woman as a cipher for nation and spirit though a process of embodiment, when ‘figuration [...] becomes matter or body.’ Choosing ‘On Her Second Birthday’, as a poem that literally ‘matters’, I take my cue from some of Batten’s more tantalizing observations and consider the possibility of a lyrical I in which voice proceeds from both mother and daughter in concord and contrapuntal cleavage at a time that Batten suggests seems to ‘precede bodily birth’. Julia Kristeva’s proposal that ‘if pregnancy is a threshold between nature and culture, then maternity is a bridge between singularity and ethics’, opens up the possibility of thinking through a dyadic prism about the co-being of mother and child in this poem as they share the mother’s body and the psychic horizon of poetry. [For ref. notes omitted here; available in JSTOR - online; accessed 22.10.2016.0

Cont. (Moynagh Sullivan) ‘[...] “On Her Second Birthday” is a poem about pregnancy and maternity, itself a nexus between body and word, between the illusory, unified speaking subject and the dispersal of intersubjectivity. It layers diachronies of emergence and differencing, interleaving plots of prenatal encounter, peri-natal separation, and linguistic subjectivization. It inscribes the mother’s / speaker’s relationship with her daughter during pregnancy (as one-yet-two), their physical separation at the daughter’s birth, and their psychic separation as the daughter emerges into language around the time of her second birthday. The opening lines of the poem set the scene for the reader’s slippage between the double perspective of child and mother: “In the beginning I was no more / Than a rising and falling mist / You could see though without seeing”. The mother/speaker is the incubating/mediating/poetic frame who represents the world to, and negotiates the world for, the reader/child, and equally, the child/speaker begins life as a projection of the mother’s own dreams and is the mist through which the mother’s desire can be reached rather than seen for herself. The enunciatory line, “In the beginning I was no more’ echoes the opening of St John’s Gospel, ‘in the beginning was the Word [... &c.] ”. Displacing a single point of linguistic incarnation, it establishes several beginnings along the double but different journeys into and away from two-ness and one and another. The words “no more”, act like a hinge describing the child’s death to aquatic life, the mother’s death to her previous self, while the enjambment, “no more / than”, swings the reader onto another psychic plane, representing the state of not being “more/than” one before pregnancy for the mother; and “no more/than” one for the newborn: “Seeking to be born / Carried off half / Of what I was able to say”.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Journals > Critical > IUR”, via index, or direct.)

Caitriona O’Reilly, review of Love, the Magician, in The Irish Times (20 Oct. 2018): ‘These are poems that efface their occasions almost entirely, and do so slyly and knowingly. McGuckian’s has always been an elusive, continually self-masking aesthetic, a space where, even when the reader lacks the foggiest idea what the poem is about - a not-infrequent occurrence - the seductions of her technique and the sensuous pleasure of her language are compensation enough. / The strength of McGuckian’s poetry lies in her capacity for phrase-making; her prosody has the ring of complete conviction even when it deals in gorgeous abstractions, her nouns unmoored from their contexts, her grammatical structures unanchored from their referents: “Faithful as rain with its senses open, / its deep, earthy colour puts a well of silky / fins around the house. The lean triangle / of its head is down and governed, while its second / head inside its head (the head in its head) / gets up hungry from the conversation, goes unfed.”’ [Cont.]

Caitríona O’Reilly, review of Love, the Magician (Irish Times, 20 Oct. 2018) - cont.: ‘There is no doubt a highly coded private meaning here, but such possibilities of denotation come impenetrably cloaked in her familiar vocabulary of flowers, fabrics, jewels, weather effects. With McGuckian one confronts head-on the familiar, tired stereotypes of Irish circumlocution or feminine verbosity: there is the sense that McGuckian has been playing with and subverting such stereotypes throughout her career, that avoiding being pinned down is, for her, an existential necessity. / Prufrock’s exasperated “it is impossible to say just what I mean!” is here raised to the status of a virtue. Then there is the controversial issue of her “borrowings”, the found elements in her work. “We are what we borrow” the narrator of The Marcella Quilt slyly remarks, kitting herself out in second-hand finery. This has developed into something of an industry. Sending scholars scuttling to uncover her source-texts must make for an amusing enough academic game (a few minutes’ desultory Googling will uncover several sources for these poems, among them Nursing Yesterday’s Child by May Spaulding and Penny Welch; and Will Pritchard’s Outward Appearances, both studies of the early science of paediatrics). / The ultimate point though is that McGuckian’s voice is not reducible to this or any other “explanation”; her historical ventriloquism is simply another layer in the multi-layered, self-conscious, and shimmeringly symphonic work of which Love, The Magician represents an intriguing instalment.’ (Reviewed with books by Kate Tempest and John Kelly [of RTÉ]; available online - accessed 11.02.2021.)

Gallery Books -notice on Blaris Moore (Sept. 2015)

Medbh McGuckian extended the range of Irish poetry. Her gloriouslymysterious work calls to mind the rhapsodic utterances of EmilyDickinson and (though with more sensuality) an older contemporary,John Ashbery.
 Her new collection, Blaris Moor, takes as its titleand starting point a traditional popular ballad that commemoratesthe trial, conviction and execution of four militiamen in 1797.Larger conflicts shadow these poems, including World Wars Iand II.  Meditations on the Flight of the Earls in theearly 1600s move to thoughts of the Somme and Flanders.
 Drawing on diverse, arcane sources, Medbh McGuckian constructspoems that have their own cohesiveness. Frequently her patternsof thought and syntax resist meaning. Hers is an art to be apprehendedmore than comprehended.
  But there are poems here that feature the courtroom dramaof direct political address and, most satisfyingly and surprisingly,a number of shorter pieces, evocative in their concentrationof Medbh McGuckian’s earlier work and of the poems whichsecured her reputation.

See online; accessed 21.01.2016.

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The Flitting”: ‘You wouldn’t believe what this house has cost me - / In body language terms, it has turned me upside down. / I’ve been carried from one structure to another / On a chair of human arms [...]’ (Rep. in Confounded Language, 1991).

The Seed-Picture”: ‘Her hair/ Is made of hook-shaped marigold, gold / Of pleasure for her lips,like raspberry grain. / The eylids oatmeal, the irises / Of Dutch bluemay, black rape / For the pupils, millet / For the vicious beige circlesunderneath. / the single pearl barley / That sleeps around her dullness/ Till it catches light, makes women / Feel their age, and sign forliberation.’ (In Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry,1991; quoted in Jennifer Hardy, UG Essay, UUC 2003.)

The Sitting”: ‘As a woman’s touch makes curtains blossom / Permanently in a house: she calls it / Wishfulness, the failure of the tampering rain / To go right into the mountain, she prefers / My sea-studies, and will not sit for me / Again, something half-opened, rarer / Than railroads, a soiled red-letter day.’ (In Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry, 1991, p.333; quoted in Jennifer Hardy, UG Essay, UUC 2003.)

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[Marian poem]: ‘The sky suffers cloudmarks. / A patch of green lining / Turned up over her foot / takes shade from the room. // Her timeless, robe with its pomegranate / Motif, has a calmer fold pattern / Than the escaped piece of veil / Falling forward over her hair. // The red angels are sorrowing / At the nuptial meaning of her body / In their angelic time, the highest / taking a burning coal in his hand, // With intended highlights on his raised / Arms and red collar, the lowest / Holding a cdridle for the dying / With a coin, a curve in his sleeve. // All earthly things have died for her, / The silver choir lights in the porch / Setting the snowflake pattern / On the bedcover, in the bright stable.’ (The Irish Times, Weekend, 14 Dec. 2002.)

Comhrá[interview,] in The Southern Review, 31, 3 (1995): ‘I find most valuable and authoentic is Nuala’s [Ní Dhomhnaill]relationship to nature. Nature is part of this Platonic deal for Heaneyand others. But Nuala is the only poet in the world, except for Tsvetaeva, whom we both sort of discovered as a kind of ... [P]rerunner, yes,who has the same dynamism and the smae feeling of being at one withthe world.’ (pp.598-99.) ‘I feel I don’t love the languageenough [...] Because it’s an imposed language, you see, and although it’s my mother tongue and my own way of communicating, I’m fighting with it all the time.’ (p.605.) ‘at some level I am reject them [English words], at some level I‘ ’msaying get out of my country, or get out of my [...] me. Get away, and give me these Ó Rathailles and all these people that I’ve no immediate intercourse with.’ (p.606.)

María Jesús Lorenzo Modia, ‘An Interview with McGuckian’ in The European English Messenger, Autumn 2004), pp.35-43; On encounters with Republican prisoners, 1992-94, ‘So it was very interesting to talk to them, and to realise that they have lots of reasons behind all this. Also that they felt very much that the newspapers and the media had distorted everything that happened all the way through so that they were blackened. This made me very sceptical about everything that I would read or hear, which before I had always, you know. Nowadays, if they say there ninety people have died of SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] and in my head I think that’s just a news item. I mean there may be nine thousand people, or there may be nine, or there may be none. Because it is now, honestly, that I have no proof of that. Or even when the Americans say we’re going in to bomb Iraq because Saddam is the villain, these men taught me to say: “Who’s the villain? Is Saddam the villain? Or is America the villain? So, before this time I always accepted that the person in power was always the person with morality and truth on his side. But now I just assume that the person in power is corrupt. / This is something that I should have learnt long ago. But my nature is such that I hadn’t. And I was writing poems about other things. I was writing poems about ... I don’t know, about my family, about ... very personal things, maybe not about the world as they saw it, but about the world as I saw it. I was in a very, very feminine world. I was in a very sheltered world. Black was black. And they taught me that, no, black is always white, that black is never black, it’s almost the reverse. So, that’s a huge change, and now I am now a little bit sceptical about that because I think I accepted too much. I accepted too much that they were right.’ (p.38.)

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María Jesús Lorenzo Modia, (interview, in The European English Messenger, Autumn 2004, 2004) - cont.: ‘[...] I felt that I had to avenge his [her father’s] death, in a sense, myself, that my father was my Republican, in a sense. My father had been born in 1919, when the State was founded. And so, because his whole life - and my mother’s whole life, and the whole generation’s life - his whole life, had been sacrificed to the partition of the country, you know, they had paid a huge price for what I had. I had my education, and I had some sense of history, and a lot more. I was being allowed to speak. I was having my books published. As a poet I was being indulged. I was told: “Yes, you are good. You can, you have this fit, and we will pay you, give you a voice.” But I thought: “Yes, I have this voice, but now I have to speak for my father and mother, because they had been silenced, and they had been not educated, and my mother had no life, and my father had no life. They had no freedom, and they had no vote, and they had no stature.”’ Of the Belfast Agreement: ‘Everything changed then because “the Troubles” were stopping. Before that, if you used [39] the word “Irish” in your poem, it was always stopped, it was very dangerous. It was not allowed. But now, they are encouraging its use more and more, for whatever purposes, for their own purposes. I think really it is in order to maintain their power, they would allow people to be more Irish.’ [...&c.] (Ibid., pp.39-40.)

María Jesús Lorenzo Modia, (interview,in The European English Messenger, Autumn 2004, 2004): remarksabout her mother (‘I see her as an island that has been separate, made of two people or whatever [...] in a sense she is the resultof the politics’ and relatedly about language (‘the way thatthe language was killed through the fighting [...] The fact that[..] I cannot talk to my mother, is also a symbol of this language gap.’);expresses anger at the death of Thomas Russell (‘he could have let us sort things out. He would have led us’) and at the Troubles(‘the result of these earlier mishandlings’) and the Famine (‘I think that’s my main anger’); speaks of segregation and discrimination; remarks that poets in the South ‘have had to[...] liberate themselves from Catholicism. While to me Catholicism is not like that at all, more like an English Catholicism, it’s a bit like Anglicanism, you know, it’s not a repressive thing to me, but it’s more a liberating thing to me because for us the Church was only sanctuary.’ Speaks of the name of streets in N. Ireland(‘with those royal names’) and the name of Belfast (béalferstun): ‘nobody explained this to me [...] And so you’reliving in this world where you don’t have any connection with the names’; calls the Latin liturgy of the Church ‘a way out of this British, royal British choking that I felt’; speaks of theChurch for Northern Catholics: ‘There was an emotional sucker there.I felt suckered [for succoured?] by the Church [...] I felt very mothered, mothered [...] It was always for a reason that it was a place of refuge.’ [End.]

Languageless: ‘I feel languageless, I feel my soul tongue-tied, but many of the other Irish poets do also, the male ones, if you read what they say about Irish and their disassociation from it. You feel odd writing or speaking a language which you know was imposed historically recently. [...] I use English awkwardly, as if I have no right to, it doesn’t correspond to tribal or racial memories. I think when I write poetry I solve the problem, I develop a specialised language of my own, fairly private, which is not English, less than, more than English which subverts, deconstructs, kills it, makes it the dreamlanguage I have lost. At least, this is the motivation.’ (Letter of 8 Feb. 1989, in Stacia L. Bensyl, ‘“To Pupulate New Ground”: Fertility Imagery in the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian’ [UCD Diss. 1989, p.139]; cited by Shane Murphy, ‘“You Took Away My Biography”: The Poetry of Medbh McGuckian’, in Irish University Review, 28, 1, Spring/Summer 1998, p.110-32, p.120.)

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Sleeping with Monsters: ‘I was brought up in Belfast. I wouldn’t have been a poet, I don’t think, if I had lived anywhere else.’ Further, ‘You can’t write without suffering, if it’s not your personal suffering then the suffering of your people, or the suffering of your nation.’ (Interview, in Gillian Somerville-Arjat & Rebecca E. Wilson, eds., Sleeping with Monsters: Conversations with Scottish and Irish Women Poets, Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1990, p.2; quoted in Jennifer Hardy, UG Essay, UUC 2003.)

Being less: ‘I know being a woman for along time was being less, being excluded, being somehow cheap, beinginferior, being sub. I associated being a woman with being a Catholicand being Irish with being from the North, and all of these things beingnot what you wanted to be. If you were a woman, it would have been betterto be a man; if you were Catholic it would have been a lot easier tobe Protestant; if you were from the North, it was much easier to befrom the South; if you were Irish it was much easier to be English.So it was like everything that I was was wrong; everything that I waswas hard, difficult and a punishment.’ (Danielle Sered, interview,Emory Univ., Atlanta, GA, USA; April 1998 [];quoted in Jennifer Hardy, UG Essay, UUC 2003.)

Feminism?: ‘You know, if you’re too demanding for your freedom then you are going to destroy your home. I’m for feminism as long as it doesn’t destroy in woman what is the most precious to her, which is her ability to relate and soften and make a loving environment for others as well as herself [...] Sometimes there is something in feminism that demands you to be almost masculine and that’s what frightens me a bit about it, or to sort of repudiate reproduction [...] I find feminism attractive in theory but in practice I think it ends up influenced by lesbians and very lonely and embittered and stressed and full of hatred.’ (Interview with Susan Shaw Sailer, in Michigan Quarterly Review, 1993, 111-23; quoted in Jennifer Hardy, UG Essay, UUC 2003.)

[ See also her essay “Jennifer Johnston”, in Blackwell Companion to Irish Literature, ed. W. J. McCormack (Oxford: Blackwell 1999; 2001) - as supra. ]

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Blake Morrison & Andrew Motion, eds., The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1982), contains ‘Slips’, ‘The Hollywood Bed’, ‘The Gardener’, ‘The Flitting’, ‘The Weaver-Girl’, ‘Next Day Hill’ (pp.196-99; note that McGuckian is the last poet in the collection.)

Susan Sellers, ed., Delighting the Heart: A Notebook by Women Writers (London: The Women’s Press 1989), contains five essays by McGuckian.

Frank Ormsby, ed., Poets of Northern Ireland (Belfast; Blackstaff 1990), lists McGuckian, ed., The Big Striped Golfing Umbrella: An Anthology of Children’s Poetry from Northern Ireland (Arts Council of Northern Ireland 1985).

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, selects from The Flower Master, ‘Slips’, ‘The Flitting’; from Venus and the Rain, ‘The Villain, ‘Painter and Poet’, ‘Catching Geese’ [1410-1411; BIOG, 1435.

Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “The Seed-picture” [330]; “The Flower Master” [332]; “The Sitting” [332]; “Marconi’s Cottage” [333]; from “Porcelain Bells”, 3: “Speaking into the Candles” [334].

Books in Print (1994), Portrait of Joanna (Belfast: UlstermanPubl. 1980); Single Ladies: Sixteen Poems (Devon: Interim Press 1980),23pp. [0 904675 17 3]; The Flower Master (London: OUP 1982) [0 19 211949 4; 0 85235 124 1], and Do. [rev. edn.] (Oldcastle, Co. Meath: GalleryPress 1993), 58pp. [1 85235 125 X]; Venus and the Rain (London: OUP1984), 55pp. [0 19 211962 1], and Do. [rev. edn.] Venus and the Rain[rev. ed.] (Oldcastle, Co. Meath: Gallery Press 1994), 55pp. [1 85235144 6]; On Ballycastle Beach (London: OUP 1988) [0 19 282106 7]; TwoWomen, Two Shores, with Nuala Archer [New Poets Series Vol. 16] (Baltimore:Chestnut Hills 1989) [0 932616 19 4]; Marconi’s Cottage (Dublin:Gallery Press 1991), 110pp. [1 85235 082 2], and Do. [rep. edn.](Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1992) [1 85235 081 4; 1 8522 197 7];Captain Lavender (Oldcastle, Co. Meath: Gallery Press 1994), 83pp. [185235 142 X].

Hibernia Books (Catalogue 1996) lists K. Smith, interviews with McGuckian and Bernard MacLaverty and lect. on Beckett, Gown Literary Supplement (1986) [QUB student journal].

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National Poetry Competition (UK 1979) was won by Medbh McGuckian with “The Flitting”, for which she entered using a masculine name in the belief that women writers were not acknowledged as real poets.

Eavan Boland “Special Issue”, IrishUniversity Review (Spring/Summer 1993), contains contrib. by MebdhMcGuckian regretting not having heard Eavan Boland’s voice ‘whenit happened’ [q.p.].

Hostile voices: See comments on the ‘forgedMcGuckian’, in Patrick Ramsay’s belligerent review of PatrickCrotty, Contemporary Irish Poetry (1995), in Fortnight Review,Jan. 1995, p.33.

Guglielmo Marconi: Broadcast winner of the 1898 Kingstown Regatta to land from his yacht; relics of his experiments kept in Maynooth’s former Museum of Ecclesiology, centred on Rev. Prof. Nicholas Callan, 1799-1864; b. Dromiskin, Co. Louth; ed. Rome; followed Alessandro Volto’s experiments with interest; established a laboratory in Maynooth on his return in 1826; designed “Maynooth battery”; made world’s largest battery by linking 577 cells, powering a magnet that could lift two tons; entry in 8th edn. of Encyc. Brit.; invented the induction coil (transformer), producing estimated 600,000 volts; killed turkeys in demonstrations; website at


Silence and Articulacyin the Poetry of Medbh McGuckian is an innovative contributionto the scholarship on Belfast poet, Medbh McGuckian. This book considersthe entire oeuvre of this globally respected Irish woman writer, a memberof the contemporary avant-garde with now fifteen (U.S. published) volumesand numerous individual publications. The author positions McGuckian’soeuvre as political and historical poetry and offers a provocative newassessment of its crafted silences. This work argues that it is themuted character of McGuckian’s poems—a consequence of a defamiliarized language, the overwhelming sway of the image, and a profusion of intertextual quoting - that constitutes their agency and force. The silences areread as a response to the precarious positionality of poet and speakerat the site of “disaster” and the limits of articulacy.In line with Rukeyser’s notion of the life of poetry, the lifeof McGuckian’s silences is located, Fadem argues, in the poems‘production, as revealed self-reflexively’, and in their prolongedconsumption. This oeuvre operates as a formidable counter-discourse by converting poetry’s reception into a much protracted task that redistributes the temporal economy of poem and reader and disrupts the given structuresof time, place, and the order of things. (Google Books Notice [et al.].)

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