We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Poetry of Medbh McGuckian

The Interior of Words

Edited by Shane Alcobia-Murphy and Richard Kirkland

Publication Year: 2010

This is the first collection of essays solely dedicated to the achievement of this remarkable Irish poet. The book contains eleven essays by internationally known scholars, a new interview with McGuckian herself, and a detailed bibliography. McGuckian’s critical reputation has grown dramatically over the last decade and she is now a poet with an international reputation. This collection provides a timely and engaging appraisal of her work.

Published by: Cork University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (42.5 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (29.4 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (28.7 KB)
pp. vii

We would also like to express our heart-felt gratitude to Medbh McGuckian for permission to quote from her work and for granting us an interview – such good-natured co-operation is rare, and her contribution to this volume is inestimable. We would also like to formally acknowledge the AHRC Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies at Aberdeen for providing a...

List of Contributors

pdf iconDownload PDF (31.3 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (91.8 KB)
pp. 1-21

Author of twelve collections of poetry, Medbh McGuckian is one of Northern Ireland’s foremost poets; however, she has not won the critical acclaim accorded to her peers. While there are monographs and collections of essays devoted to the work of Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley, McGuckian’s oeuvre tends to be overlooked. The reason...

read more

1. Speaking as the North: Self and place in the early poetry of Medbh McGuckian

pdf iconDownload PDF (81.7 KB)
pp. 22-40

Medbh McGuckian ranks among the most prolific and original contemporary poets in English. She is, moreover, the only female poet to have gained international renown alongside an almost exclusively male generation of Northern Irish poets. Surprisingly, however, despite her Northern Irish background, the majority of critics have tended to label McGuckian’s poetry...

read more

2. A Gibbous Voice: The poetics of subjectivity in the early poetry of Medbh McGuckian

pdf iconDownload PDF (105.0 KB)
pp. 41-67

During the period in which Medbh McGuckian was establishing her authority as artist – from the early 1980s up to her fourth volume, Marconi’s Cottage (1991) – that authority was configured through a process of confirmatory self-displacement: resistance to expansionist ego as the means of delivering the subject. There is a paradox in claiming such a procedure for a...

read more

3. ‘Poetry must almost Dismantle the Letters’: McGuckian, Mallarmé and polysemantic play

pdf iconDownload PDF (79.6 KB)
pp. 68-83

It may initially seem incongruous to make a connection between Medbh McGuckian and Stéphane Mallarmé and yet, despite differences of time and place, the oeuvre of each poet demonstrates the instrumentation of what, in reference to Lacanian theory, can be termed ‘polysemantic play’. This is not to say that what motivates each poet to utilise such polysemantic play is identical...

read more

4. Signs of encounters in Medbh McGuckian’s Poetry

pdf iconDownload PDF (82.6 KB)
pp. 84-104

The complex issues of the nature of signs, speaking or representation generally, as commented on by Heidegger and Levinas above, have been extensively debated in contemporary philosophical discourse and aesthetic practices. In this respect, Medbh McGuckian’s poetry is no exception, since many of her poems deal with representational acts such as writing and...

read more

5. The Space that Cleaves: The house and hospitality in Medbh McGuckian’s work

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.0 KB)
pp. 105-116

The house in Northern Ireland has at times offered only partial sanctuary from turbulence ‘outside’: it is a physical and affective interior, a space of retreat and secrecy, yet it remains far from invulnerable to the history it must endure. The phrase ‘safe house’ paradoxically suggests both shelter and security, and also the harbouring of a threat within. The unheimlich house has...

read more

6. ‘Warding off an Epitaph’: Had I a thousand lives

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.6 KB)
pp. 117-129

Questions of names and naming loom large in Medbh McGuckian’s collection Had I a Thousand Lives (2003): the act of naming as a mode of control, as a means of change and renewal, and as a token of possession.1 Most of all, however, naming appears in these poems as a practice of remembrance. In this sense one could argue that behind McGuckian’s collection there remains...

read more

7. ‘That Now Historical Ground’: Memory and atrocity in the poetry of Medbh McGuckian

pdf iconDownload PDF (77.8 KB)
pp. 130-146

When searching for ways to impose a meaningful order upon reality, we rely on memory for ‘the provision of symbolic representations and frames which can influence and organize both our actions and our conceptions of ourselves’.2 However, in the aftermath of the Belfast Agreement and the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly narratives produced by the media and...

read more

8. Medbh McGuckian and the politics of minority discourse

pdf iconDownload PDF (72.7 KB)
pp. 147-161

The creation of human subjectivity is a necessarily endless process. Described by Gilles Deleuze as a ‘becoming’, it is a condition that constantly looks towards a final goal, a homecoming, but that destination is always deferred, always held out of reach. To understand and live within this is a difficult art, one that requires a particular sensuousness and a sensitive...

read more

9. ‘They Come into It’: The muses of Medbh McGuckian

pdf iconDownload PDF (68.8 KB)
pp. 162-176

The most enigmatic participant in the performance of inspiration is the imaginary subject who, in one way or another, exerts authorial influence on the completion of the work. Whether imagined or real, this person, the muse, functions as the created projection of the work’s singularity. In simpler terms, he or she becomes an essential participant in the performance of inspiration...

read more

10. Re-assembling the Atom: Reading Medbh McGuckian’s intertextual materials

pdf iconDownload PDF (82.0 KB)
pp. 177-193

The title poem of On Ballycastle Beach speaks of ‘read[ing] these words to you [. . .] meaningless and full of meaning’,1 and may be taken as a description of the aesthetic which first brought Medbh McGuckian’s work to critical attention. By the time of the publication of her third collection, however, the poet’s meaningful meaninglessness, or meaningless meaningfulness...

read more

11. Interview with Medbh McGuckian (Athol Hotel, Aberdeen, 6 May 2007)

pdf iconDownload PDF (64.3 KB)
pp. 194-206

My husband isn’t working, so he’s taking on all of the household responsibilities, the cooking and the shopping. Also, the children have grown up – the youngest [her daughter, Emer] is eighteen – so that gives me a bit more leeway. Although I now have my mother to look after instead of them, I do feel I have more time for writing. I also have a regular job, with a regular income, whereas...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (42.1 KB)
pp. 208-213

I first encountered Medbh McGuckian’s work soon after the publication of Venus and the Rain, in 1984. There was a stand devoted to the Oxford Poets series in the middle of the ground floor of Blackwells in Oxford, where I was then living, and, amongst Penelope Shuttle and Peter Porter and D.J. Enright, I found Medbh’s work. Venus and the Rain led me back to...

Notes and references

pdf iconDownload PDF (125.9 KB)
pp. 215-245


pdf iconDownload PDF (44.2 KB)
pp. 247-252


pdf iconDownload PDF (51.8 KB)
pp. 253-262

E-ISBN-13: 9781908634016
E-ISBN-10: 1908634014
Print-ISBN-13: 9781859184653
Print-ISBN-10: 1859184650

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1