This was the mighty fourteenth conference in the ‘New Voices in Irish Criticism’ series, hosted by Queen’s University, Belfast. The theme was ‘Legitimate Ireland’, and there were papers on various aspects of legitimacy in the humanities.
I presented a paper which subverted readings of canonicity and exclusion in the work of Colette Bryce on day one. Thankfully, this timing left me free to enjoy the other postgraduate and early career papers, the various wine receptions, the conference dinner – and of course the keynotes.
Lots of the papers were stimulating, although the ones which I could link to my own work were most provoking. Joanna Etchart (Sorbonne) on Belfast’s ‘ambiguous desire to be a “boom” city’ reflected on the effects of flagship development programmes such as the Titanic Quarter and public sculpture. The ambiguity she identified resonated with representations of the post-Troubles city in poetry.
There were also an encouraging number of papers reflecting on masculinity, fatherhood and patriarchy in drama, fiction, poetry and film. I chaired a panel on which Michael Maguire (UCD) spoke about e-poetry and literary inheritance and David Delaney (NUIG) addressed docile bodies, Beckett and the digital age. These two papers raised a number of issues about digitization, e-literatures, and academia’s attitude to technological innovation.
Professor Elizabeth Butler Cullingford’s keynote addressed three novels of emigration – which tied in nicely with thoughts still swimming in my head following the ‘New Perspectives on Irish Women and the Diaspora‘ conference. Butler Cullingford paralleled her readings of renewed interest in (historical) emigration to the U.S. in recent Irish novels with the statistical reality that relatively low numbers of Irish are going there (less than 5000, legally). The novels she addressed which I haven’t read (On Canaan’s Side and Let the Great World Spin) are on my holiday reading list.
There was plenty of time for networking too, and having often felt somewhat isolated by the relative obscurity of my very contemporary field, I was pleased to make contact with others working on modern Irish poetry. Continuing with the American theme from the keynote, and the idea of legitimacy, I sat with two American PhD students at dinner – who inform me that this is the most ‘authentic’ song of the American south.
The thing I should be settling down to is my thesis – so here goes.