Munster poetry is finding its rhythm

An anthology of poets who were born in the province after 1960 is the first since the late Sean Dunne’s 1985 guide, says Colette Sheridan

Munster poetry is finding its rhythm

"THERE’S a buzz about Irish poetry in France at the moment,” says Cork academic, Cliona Ní Riordáin, who has co-edited the bilingual Poetes du Munster: 1960-2015, which will be launched at the Cork Spring Poetry Festival and is published by Illador.

Ní Riordáin, who teaches literature and translation at the Sorbonne in Paris, recently edited an anthology of Irish women poets from 1973-2013, which is also a French publication.

Ní Riordáin’s anthology of 26 Munster poets follows the late poet and Cork Examiner journalist Sean Dunne’s book, which was published in 1985.

To be included in Ni Riordáin’s anthology, the poets had to be born after 1940 in Munster and have at least one collection of poetry published.

Irish-language poets in the anthology include Gabriel Rosenstock, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Liam Ó Muirthile.

“I’m interested in poetry in general and was very keen on reactivating the notion of getting people to look at the poetry from the south of the country, again.”

The anthology starts with Michael Hartnett and finishes with the youngest poet in the book, Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh, who is from Kerry and who writes in Irish.

Other poets featured include Thomas McCarthy, Theo Dorgan, Gregory O’Donoghue, Gerry Murphy, Sean Dunne, Colm Breathnach, Louis De Paor, Billy Ramsell, Patrick Cotter, Eilean Ní Chuilleanain, Leanne O’Sullivan (writer-in-residence at UCC), Martina Evans and Catherine Phil McCarthy.

The period from 1960 to 2015 is distinctive, says Ní Riordáin.

“It seemed like a natural progression, following on from the late Sean Dunne’s anthology. In the 1960s, there was a new energy and optimism in Ireland. There was a sense of renewal and a very strong youth movement from 1968 on. And, of course, there was sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. There was a feeling of liberation.

“I also think the introduction of free secondary school education in Ireland in 1967 was significant. And you had the publication of the Penguin modern poets, in paperback, which made poetry accessible. But I don’t think you can say the poets featured belong to a particular movement.

“However, some of the Irish-language poets included in the book would have been associated with Innti, the journal published in UCC at the beginning of the 1970s. UCC was pioneering, with Sean Ó Riordáin brought onto the campus as an ancillary lecturer. He didn’t have the status of poet-in-residence, but that’s basically what he was. Sean Ó Riada was also on the campus. And you had poetic influences like Sean Lucey and, later, John Montague.”

In the 1970s, the Cork Examiner published a poem a week.

“That has been renewed in the Irish Examiner and I think that’s really commendable. All of that meant that poetry was visible and, when Triskel came along, you had more readings,” Ní Riordáin says.

There is great poetic energy in Cork, says Ní Riordáin. She cites performance poets, such as Dave Lordan and Maighread Medhb, but hasn’t included their work in the anthology.

The Munster Literature Centre, says Ní Riordáin, provides “institutional support for poetry in the form of recognition and funding. It’s seen as an art form that is to be valued. And there’s now a creative writing programme at UCC.”

The anthology is 450 pages.

“Rather than just having one poem per poet, from a huge number of poets, there are up to six poems per poet published. I wanted something more than a brief glimpse.”

Anthologies “are important, in that they allow you to have a snapshot and an angle of vision at a particular time. There will always be people who’ll say that such-and-such a person should have been included.”

What are the poets writing about?

“The variety of subject matter running through it is what is exciting. Some of the poems are political. At the same time, there is very personal, lyrical poetry, poetry about particular events or particular people. For example, Paul Durcan has a poem about Charles Lynch (the pianist.)”

Durcan isn’t from Munster but is included in the anthology because he lived in Cork for many years, went to UCC and was the first editor of The Cork Review.

There is nothing inward-looking about Ní Riordáin’s anthology, which is co-edited with Paul Bensimon.

“You can see in the work of Theo Dorgan or Thomas McCarthy the influence of Eastern European poets, and Greek poets, in particular, such as Constantine Cavafy and George Seiferis. Sean Dunne was influenced by Russian poetry and he translated a whole load of poems by Anna Ahkmatova.”

While the older generation of Munster poets had paperbacks at their disposal, younger poets, like Billy Ramsell, have the internet.

“Billy has said that it’s now possible to create poetic communities across the world.”



Farmgate Poems today, 4pm

Celebrating its second year sponsoring the publication of a poem each week in the Irish Examiner, there’s an open invitation to gather at the English Market cafe for song, poetry, food and drink.

Martina Evans and Dave Lordan tonight, 10pm, Cork Arts Theatre.

London-based Evans, from Co Cork, will read from her latest collection, ‘Burnfort, Las Vegas.’ Lordan, a renowned live performer of his work, will read from his most recent collection, ‘Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains.’

Liz Berry & Don Share, February 13, 10pm, Cork Arts Theatre.

Birmingham-based Berry’s collection, ‘Black Country’ (Chatto) won the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection.

Share, editor of POETRY Magazine will read from his most recent books, Wishbone, Union and Bunting’s Persia.

There will be readings by many of the contributors to Berryman’s Fate: A Centenary Celebration in Verse at the Cork City Library on February 13 at 4pm.

READ MORE: Tuesday Poem - The Poet's Devil, by Shoshanna Wingate 

More in this section


Did you miss our Virtual Event with Alison O’Connor, Aoife Moore, Clodagh Finn, Derval O’Rourke and Vicky Phelan