One of the challenges of my PhD topic comes from its contemporariness. There are various things to tackle, from a lack of critical material and a lack of awareness of this poetry in the academy, to the seemingly shifting contexts of the work I’m attempting to criticise (new poems published and so on).
The following isn’t a serious issue, more a bug bear often encountered. It is is this – people, with all the best intentions, get the poets’s names completely wrong. I’ve met people who familiar with the work of O’Morrissey, or once heard Letitia Flynn read. Particularly withering was an email exchange with a (nameless) MA student who was writing a dissertation on Collette, rather than Colette, Bryce.
All things considered, though, I’m lucky to get to work on such current writers, and in many ways the challenges of the poetry’s modernity is part of the process and increases my enjoyment of it. Sean O’Brien recounts a humorous block he encountered – which is also testament to the distance contemporary Irish poetry has come in the past half-century.
‘As an undergraduate in the early 1970s when I applied to the Cambridge English Faculty Office for permission to write my Long Essay on Heaney I received a curt note to the effect that ‘Seamus O’Heaney’ was not considered a suitable subject for study. Such moments make it all worthwhile, in retrospect. My then tutor sympathetically suggested I tackle R.S. Thomas instead – ‘who, though Welsh, is also a Celt’, as he put it.’
Sean O’Brien, The Deregulated Muse (Newcastle: Bloodaxe, 1998), p. 11.