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“RISING OUT”: MEDBH MCGUCKIAN’S DESTABILIZING POETICS MARY O’CONNOR there are, indeed, clues in her poetry that Medbh McGuckian is an Irish woman, even a Belfast woman. One gathers them as the children in the Brothers Grimm folktale must have gathered the crumbs that guided them back home through the forest, for want of a clearly delineated path. We Wnd Irish idiomatic expressions: “she gave it out that—”; “Live in the shelter of each other,” a direct translation of the Gaelic saying fé scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine; “Xitting,” or vacating a Xat without having paid the overdue rent. From history and mythology appear the poets of the bardic schools who “lie in the dark to compose / Verses as were taught”; Patrick, who comes to bless the house; Fergus, presumably the royal rival in the Queen Maeve story; Hugh O’Neill leading the Flight of the Earls in 1609 after an almost successful rebellion; the 1916 Easter Rising; and, closer to home, appear the Belfast phenomena of checkpoints; of having soldiers occupy your house, of being frisked, of being conscious of “apartness.” All these Wnd their way into the poet’s house of metaphor. Other passing references to, for example, sickly weather, tiny mountains , “blue sky rain,” “banding in volcanoes like potatoes,” “the women’s side of the chapel,” bespeak the mental furniture, the particular lived experience which the Irish share. But it is not a physical country to which McGuckian gives her allegiance, or which is most deeply imprinted on her for her native town land is the territory of the unconscious, especially as it emerges into the subconscious in dreams. Like Seamus Heaney’s “pioneers ,” she will strike “inward, downward,”1 though not in their eVortful , stalwart way, unearthing the makings of an identity from the prehistoric bogs. Rather, she will dissolve consciousness, volatilize the laws of “RISING OUT”: MEDBH MCGUCKIAN’S DESTABILIZING POETICS 154 1 Medbh McGuckian, Venus and the Rain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 46; hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (VR 46). logic—even as they apply to the ordering of a normal sentence—and let her poems “weather into meaning” as they will. How may this Northern Irish writer, who is both a British subject and a Roman Catholic—and therefore, if she folows the stereotype, a Republican —situate herself in either conXicting tradition? McGuckian’s choice has been to elide that question, to ignore the very obvious borders in her life, psychosocial and sociopolitical, breaking the rules in ways the establishment cannot punish her for. Her solution to the intense pressures of living in Northern Ireland has been a Xight to the semiotic. Refusing questions of nationalism, McGuckian stakes her claims, in complex ways, to language, and to the encompassing power of the maternal body as paradigm for acts of inclusion. Liam O’Dowd’s account of his experiences as a lecturer in Queen’s University, Belfast, throws light on the situation of Northern Irish writers , most of whom are graduates of Queen’s, some of whom have taught there: [M]ost of my immediate colleagues at the University were English. While I saw the conXict against a backdrop of historical colonial conXict in Ireland , they knew little of that history and were seldom interested in it. . . . Our students, from both [Catholic and Protestant] communities, had suVered a type of enforced intellectual marginality. The conXict in which their families were embroiled was being represented to them by the media as irrational and incomprehensible, as a struggle between secular humanism and religious fanaticism, between peace and violence, even between good and evil. They had experienced an education system which, if it taught them any history, generally denied them their own. . . . The marginal role of moderates and intellectuals encourage them . . . to claim high ground “above” the conXict.2 It is clear that this syndrome has operated to diVerent extents in the lives of Northern Irish poets, or even within the working career of the individual poet, and their responses have ranged from savage indignation to physical Xight, from cautious interrogation to a retreat to the purely pastoral. McGuckian’s response is perhaps the least overt, the most subversive of any...


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