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Scholarcast 16: Poems and Paradigms

UCD Scholarcast - Series 4: Reconceiving the British Isles: The Literature of the Archipelago

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In Poems and Paradigms Edna Longley argues that the archipelagic paradigm is crucial to the criticism of modern poetry in English. Quoting John Kerrigan on the expansive, multi-levelled, polycentric aspects of the literary and cultural field, she discussed five poems which display their archipelagic co-ordinates on the surface: W.B. Yeats’s Under Saturn (1919), Philip Larkin’s The Importance of Elsewhere (1955), W.S. Graham’s Loch Thom (1977), Edward Thomas’s The Ash Grove (1916) and Louis MacNeice’s Carrick Revisited (1945). For Longley, the poems’ deeper aesthetic dynamics epitomise how influences move around within the archipelago, and she particularly emphasises serial transformations of Wordsworth and Yeats. She sees archipelagic and national paradigms as complementary, but criticises the way in which national poetic canons marginalise border cases’, saying: If a poem doesn’t fit the paradigm, change the paradigm. She goes on to suggest that, in the mid twentieth century, the aesthetic significance of Yeats’s mature poetry was most significantly absorbed by MacNeice and by English poets such as Auden, Larkin, Ted Hughes and Geoffrey Hill. She ends by proposing that all this throws light on the archipelagic sources of Northern Irish poetry.


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