« Poetry by Women in Ireland: A Critical Anthology (1870-1970) », Lucy Collins (editor)
Lucy Collins (editor), Poetry by Women in Ireland: A Critical Anthology (1870-1970), Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2012, ISBN 978-1-846-31756-9
As Lucy Collins acknowledges in her introductory essay, “‘Slow Tide on the Tide of History’: Poetry by Women in Ireland, 1870-1970”, the place of women’s writing in Irish literary history has been controversial, their representation limited. The saga of The Field Day Anthology is a case in point, yet the neglect of women from this period in Field Day’s first three volumes was of a piece with their omission from other volumes, like Thomas Kinsella’s Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1986) or indeed, as Collins points out, in Patrick Crotty’s much later compendium, Penguin Book of Irish Poetry, which contains a selection from only four poets “from the mid-nineteenth century to the late twentieth century” (p. 3).
Poetry by Women in Ireland, edited by Collins, is therefore a much-needed volume. It addresses the issue of the place accorded to women poets in the literary history of the period studied and redresses the balance by according extended space for reflection on this topic, while providing readers with a convincing sample of the work of fifteen poets from the era in question. Although the names of some of the poets, like Emily Lawless, Katherine Tynan, Eva Gore-Booth or Susan L. Mitchell, are well known, other names are likely to be less familiar, that of Eileen Shanahan for instance, the only woman in the book not to have published a collection of poems. Lucy Collins wishes to underline “the range and complexity of the work of individual women” (p. 1). She achieves this aim. The poems included in the volume illustrate varied preoccupations (identity, the national question, social issues, the feminist debate) and styles (the modernist lyric, the patriotic ballad).
Collins also examines the context in which these women emerged, highlighting their pre-dominantly middle-class background and the ties that connected them to literary and political movements on both sides of the Irish sea. She adopts a chronological approach that allows her to trace the ebb and flow of women’s engagement with poetic form. She makes great use of primary sources, evoking the interesting role played by journals like The Shan Van Vocht, and draws our attention to the primacy accorded, on the whole, to the national question over the gender issue the period under study.
The anthology provides a biographical note for each of the fifteen women included. It is augmented by two appendices: one traces the history and cultural developments for the period, the second provides a comprehensive list of Irish women poets from 1870-1970.
Poetry by Women in Ireland: A Critical Anthology has been published in hardback by Liverpool University Press. A more accessible paperback edition would enable it to become an invaluable textbook for all students of Irish poetry.