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Poets and Partitions

Confronting Communal Identities in Northern Ireland

Jon Curley is University Lecturer of Humanities at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey. A past Fulbright scholar, he writes extensively on contemporary poetry and Irish literature. His first collection of poetry, New Shadows, was published in 2009.

Poets and Partitions offers a comprehensive analysis of Northern Irish poetry focusing on the colonial, political, and cultural underpinnings that have shaped artistic expression in a variety of ways. In discussing the rich poetry reflecting the conflict of community, Jon Curley examines what aesthetic choices poets make in order to register, resist, or re-imagine life and thought under particularly tumultuous conditions. The focus is on both the better-known contemporary Northern Irish poets as well as their more obscure but no less significant counterparts.

Forms of communal identity generated in Northern Ireland are examined by way of an ethical critique that references the conceptual blockages and innovations that help foster new poetic representations of society. Establishing the complexity and potency of poetic experimentation, Poets and Partitions is a timely commentary for all those interested in the intersection of aesthetics and politics. The exploration of communal identity-formations in Northern Irish poetry or poetry in general has been dismissed by some critics as an unhelpful approach to understanding literature. But, as this study demonstrates, it is a vital area of scholarly examination and Jon Curley’s in-depth analysis illuminates understanding of how poets confront their communal, social, and sectarian orders.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-429-1
Hardback Price: £47.50 / $67.50
Release Date: February 2011
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Introduction: “Casting Eyes Northwards”

Chapter 1: Northern Irish Quandaries and Critiques
Chapter 2: Ciphers, Fences, and Dark Figures: Indeterminacy and Legitimacy in John Hewi
Chapter 3: More Protestant Prototypes: The Disinherited Homelands of Louis MacNeice and W.R. Rodgers
Chapter 4: The Poetics of Violence and the Problem of Tradition: Limits, Dilemmas, Difficulties in Representing the Troubles
Chapter 5: Seamus Heaney’s North: Mythic Economies and the Troubles
Chapter 6: “The Flux of Sensation and Crisis”: Derek Mahon’s Occupied Spaces
Chapter 7: Rosetta Stones and Blarney Stones: The Trickster’s Code in the Northern Script of Ciaran Carson and Paul Muldoon
Chapter 8: Epilogue: Partition/Prophecy: Troubles Poetry at its End?


Poets and Partitions revitalizes the discussion of Troubles poetry, digging deeply into the poetry of this divergent school, from Hewitt to Heaney, Mahon to McGuckian, Rodgers to Muldoon and Carson. Whether discussing violence, transcendence, or emotional disclosure, Curley illuminates these poets’ projects. This book is also a serious study of the dynamics of public poetry – a form stretched between the demands of self and state, expression and communal identity. Curley brings a scholar’s breadth of understanding and a poet’s awareness of linguistic tack to this study of Ireland’s most influential poetic school. Clearly, history has a place in poetry, and public poetry has received an elegant new appraisal.
Joseph Lennon, Director of the Irish Studies Program at Villanova University, author of Irish Orientalism

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