Landscapes of Irish and Greek Poets

Essays, Poems, Interviews

by Joanna Kruczkowska (Volume editor)
Edited Collection XIV, 310 Pages


Landscapes of Irish and Greek Poets juxtaposes two countries on the margins of Europe that display many affinities: Ireland and Greece. It investigates the ways in which contemporary poetry from both countries engages with external and internal landscapes, bringing together essays by poets and scholars, poems in English and Greek and interviews with the Irish poets Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan. The topics explored include travel, nature, suburban areas, cultural and political landscapes, the perception of wilderness and the influence of technology in the digital age. Especially relevant at a time of ecological and social crisis, the correlation of external landscapes with the landscapes of the mind, mediated by poetry, offers a powerful insight into the world in which we live.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Inner and Outer Landscapes in Irish and Greek Poetry (Joanna Kruczkowska)
  • Bibliography
  • Part I: Ireland and Greece
  • 1 Greece, Ireland, Poetry: A Single Topic in Three Words? (Yiorgos Chouliaras)
  • Living / Writing
  • Why Ireland?
  • 3 × 3
  • E-scapes & E-motions
  • The Role of Poetry
  • Relation to Language
  • Diaspora-Homeland Tensions
  • In Place of Concluding Remarks
  • A coda
  • 2 Starlight and Electric Light: Seamus Heaney’s Greece (Rowena Fowler)
  • Bibliography
  • Works by Seamus Heaney (published by Faber and Faber, London, unless otherwise stated)
  • Selected secondary bibliography
  • 3 The Archaeology of Love: Richard Murphy’s Greece (Benjamin Keatinge)
  • Bibliography
  • 4 Irish Poets on Paros: O’Grady, Mahon, Longley, Brennan (Joanna Kruczkowska)
  • Bibliography
  • 5 Rus in urbe? Tellos Agras’ scenes (David Ricks)
  • Bibliography
  • 6 Green Leaves and Little Boats: Two Female Speakers in the Poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (Jerzy Jarniewicz)
  • Bibliography
  • Part II: Wilderness and Technology
  • 7 ‘In Wildness is the Preservation of the World’: Thoreau’s ‘Walking’ and Some Perspectives on Poetry and Wilderness (Caitríona O’Reilly)
  • Bibliography
  • 8 Poetry and the Digital Age (Leontia Flynn)
  • Part III: Interviews
  • 9 Between Ireland and Greece: Interview with Paula Meehan
  • 10 Temenos, Eurydice, Ithaca: Interview with Theo Dorgan
  • Part IV: Irish and Greek Poems
  • 11 Irish Poetry with Greek Translation
  • Harry Clifton
  • Theo Dorgan
  • Leontia Flynn
  • Paula Meehan
  • Caitríona O’Reilly
  • 12 Greek Poetry with English Translation
  • Yiorgos Chouliaras [Γιώργος Χουλιάρας]
  • Anna Griva [Άννα Γρίβα]
  • Liana Sakelliou [Λιάνα Σακελλίου]
  • Haris Vlavianos [Χάρης Βλαβιανός]
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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Figure 4.1: Desmond O’Grady on Paros in a kaiki, 1974 (the O’Grady family archive).

Figure 4.2: Naousa harbour in the early 1970s. In the middle, Captain Leonardo’s boat. On the wall in the corner, the symbol of the dictatorship in Greece, the Phoenix, with the date of its imposition: 21 April 1967. In the middle, Captain Leonardo’s boat (photo: Stella Lubsen).

Figure 4.3: Jeffrey Carson and Derek Mahon at Stella Lubsen’s house on Paros, 1997 (photo: Stella Lubsen).

Figure 4.4: Desmond O’Grady and Gisèle d’Ailly in her house in Amsterdam, 1990s (the O’Grady family archive).

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I express my gratitude to all the poets, translators and academics who contributed to this book. The poems and their translations are reproduced with kind permission of the authors and, additionally, of: The Gallery Press, www.bloodaxebooks.com (Harry Clifton’s poems); The Dedalus Press (Theo Dorgan’s and Paula Meehan’s poems); www.bloodaxebooks.com (Caitríona O’Reilly’s poems). The titles of the volumes and their publishers appear under each section representing the given poet.

This collection of essays, poems and interviews has been partly inspired by the Living/Writing Irish-Greek poetry symposium held in Athens in December 2015 in the framework of my Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship (2015–2016) at the University of Athens, hosted by Prof. Liana Sakelliou. Prof. Sakelliou also coordinated the work of some of the translators featured in this publication, and Artemis Griva helped to proofread the Greek versions.

Complementary to this book, one can listen to eighteen audio interviews with poets, scholars and translators on the project website, www.irellas.com. The interviews will be published in a separate volume following this one. Landscapes of Irish and Greek Poets contains two of these recorded interviews.

I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Embassy of Ireland in Greece and the help of its Deputy Head of Mission, Mr Luke Feeney: this poetic exchange would not be possible without their enthusiastic engagement.

I really appreciate the publication subsidy granted for this book by Prof. Piotr Stalmaszczyk and Prof. Joanna Jabłkowska (Deans of the Faculty of Philology, University of Lodz) as well as Prof. Antoni Różalski (Rector of the University of Lodz).

Two photographs reproduced here (‘Desmond O’Grady on Paros’ and ‘Desmond O’Grady and Gisele d’Ailly’) appear courtesy of the O’Grady family. I would like to thank Leonardo O’Grady for the long interview ← xv | xvi → about his father. My host on Paros was Stella Lubsen, to whom I am grateful for four wonderful days of travels and stories about Irish poets, and for two photos included here (‘Derek Mahon and Jeffrey Carson’ and ‘Naousa harbour’).

Most importantly, my wholehearted thanks go to Liana Sakelliou for her enthusiasm, support and personal friendship throughout my stays in Greece. Σ’ευχαριστώ πάρα πολύ, Λιάνα μου!

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Introduction: Inner and Outer Landscapes in Irish and Greek Poetry

In Writing for an Endangered World, Lawrence Buell, one of the theorists of ecocriticism, ponders the elusiveness of the term ‘place’ with its objective and subjective connotations ‘pointing outward toward the tangible world and inward to the perceptions one brings to it’ (2001: 59). This statement can obviously be qualified: the very concept of reality has been treated by philosophers, since Plato at least, as even more elusive, and we may wonder whether we really bring perceptions to the world, or the world engenders them in our consciousness; the process definitely works both ways. As Buell further notices, the complexity of the constructs involved in the term ‘place’ (geography, society, culture, economy, politics, mentality, mythology, etc.) are ‘mediated ecologically by the physical environments that they also mediate’ (2001: 60). At some of these points, it seems, the sense of place converges with the spirit of place.

The sense of place in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the era of mobility and global media, is irrevocably tied to physical or virtual travel, and depends on our position and perspective in this movement. Thus, a writer’s sense of place may substantially differ from that of a tourist, a local resident, an environmental activist, or a scientist, not to mention that of the modern nomad,1 migrant or refugee. This sense of place can meet the spirit of place in the landscape as a stable or shifting point of reference. Travelling in the Mediterranean for over five decades, Lawrence Durrell tried to pinpoint the relationship between landscape and character, arguing that politics and culture are determined by ‘the enduring faculty of self-expression inhering in landscape’ (1988: 157). He linked national ← 1 | 2 → mentality to different rhythms of life, preconceptions and temperament stimulated by landscape. If a traveller in a foreign country does not hurry, (s)he can afford inner identification with the physical surroundings for ‘all landscapes ask the same question […] “I am watching you – are you watching yourself in me?”’ (1988: 158). Travelling artists in particular are susceptible to respond to this question because of ‘a personal landscape of the heart which beckons them’, Durrell concludes (1988: 160).

This interaction between inner and outer landscapes enabled by travel has been glossed by many writers and scholars. Travelling resembles thinking; the actual journey becomes a journey of the mind. An important factor in the physical process of journeying is being on the move and exposed to moving places. ‘Journeys are the midwives of thought’, Alain de Botton observes in The Art of Travel (2014: 57), where he examines the phenomenon of travel from the point of departure, through various means of transport, intermediary places, methods of ‘immortalizing’ the views and thinking of landscape, to reaching one’s destination and the phase of returning. While ‘new thoughts [require] new places’, ‘introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape’ (2014: 57). We can add that for an artist or any other mental traveller, this flow can be replaced by or transformed into a flight of imagination, though the sensory presence of the outer landscape may also challenge or corroborate myths and (mis)conceptions about the place, such as those of pristine nature, of the epitome of antiquity (Greece), or the land of saints and scholars (Ireland).

In ‘Landscape and Narrative’, Barry Lopez differentiated between the external landscape as one we learn ‘by perceiving the relationships in it’ (1989: 64) and the interior landscape, in which ‘the speculations, intuitions, and formal ideas we refer to as “mind” are a set of relationships with purpose and order’ (1989: 65). Responding to the subtlety of an exterior landscape by discovering kindred relationships to those of their internal world, some of the writers included in this book have been captivated by the spirit of one place for a long time, returning to Ikaria (Paula Meehan, Theo Dorgan), Paros (Desmond O’Grady, Derek Mahon, Rory Brennan), the Athens suburbs (Tellos Agras), Crete (Richard Murphy), the Peloponnese (Seamus Heaney) or Ireland (Yiorgos Chouliaras). They turned them into places of the mind, creating unforgettable poetic landscapes, while the real ← 2 | 3 → places taught them new perspectives, lessons in the art of life, or analogies to their own experience. The divided Cyprus must be compelling for a poet coming from Northern Ireland, and Gerald Dawe – unfortunately not featuring in this volume – provides an example of such an approach.2 Place itself has fictive dimensions as well – literary, iconographic, mythological, imaginary – visited by writers across the world. In this volume, examples of such coherent fictive landscapes include Anna Griva’s mythological cycle and Leontia Flynn’s engagement with virtual reality.

Travellers know the thrill of entering an unknown territory, as if discovering a blank spot on the map, or facing an empty page in the case of writers. The Irish cartographer and natural history writer Tim Robinson, when he was mapping the Burren, experienced

that high point of awareness one reaches in crossing a pass, where the line of the knowable, leading over from the lowland already traversed to that just being revealed, is intersected by the axis of the heights on either side which are left unvisited and unknowable by this journey. (1996: 22)

This could serve as a topographical metaphor for exploring another country in writing, too, especially since a few pages before Robinson is writing about ‘that mysterious and neglected fourth dimension of cartography which extends deep into the self of the cartographer’ (1996: 19). Comparing his walking to writing the landscape, and himself to a pen (Tim Robinson: Connemara), Robinson tries ‘to establish a network of lines involving this dimension, along which the landscape can enter my mind, unfragmented and undistorted’ (1996: 19), much as the poet’s mind establishes a network of words for the same purpose. In the interview included in this book, Theo Dorgan unravels the concept of temenos – the point where ‘the world is writing itself, imagining itself’ – in relation to his Greek travels, and links it to poetic activity as such.

Yet Robinson associated his map-making also with ‘postcolonial reparation’ (Dillon 2007: 38), a reverse action to the processes depicted ← 3 | 4 → in Brian Friel’s Translations; and it must be noted here that natural landscapes may have been free of historical implications only in the moment of their (self?)creation. As human history determines natural history, ‘to insist that a thing is natural in the sense of being primordial is arguably to mythologize or obfuscate’ (Buell 2006: 143). Both Ireland and Greece were subject to colonization, while the colonial overtones of the pastoral genre (and of the Romantic gaze later on) have been manifest throughout centuries. Already Virgil’s pastorals had been ‘tainted’ with remarks about land appropriation, a point Seamus Heaney raised in his ‘Eclogues in Extremis’ (2003). The presence of the Elizabethan poets in Ireland and the later persistence of colonial implications in the Irish pastoral inspired the more recent analysis by Oona Frawley (2005). ‘Pastoral has been used by […] immigrants to underwrite a program of conquest and by indigenes to decry [it]’, (Buell 1995: 31), and Heaney using Virgil or the sonnet form to famously comment on the conquest – in ‘Act of Union’, for instance – is just one of the poets probing the subversive possibilities of the idyllic mode. Other poets from the North performing similar literary acts include Derek Mahon, Michael Longley,3 or their predecessor, Louis MacNeice, who, in Ten Burnt Offerings (1952), fused English colonial pastoral in Ireland with the Byronic mythologization of Greece. ‘As a consequence of its peripheral location within Europe and its status as a Celtic outreach of British colonialism’, the Irish ecocritic Eóin Flannery argues, ‘Ireland has historically been entrapped within vocabulary of myth and romance’ as ‘an “unruly” romantic periphery’ (2010: 87). This last epithet could be attributed to Ireland’s counterpart at the other edge of Europe, that is, to Greece, whose persisting image of an equally unruly romantic periphery has been imposed by philhellenes in the nineteenth century.

Another facet of the nineteenth-century travellers’ gaze, their reading the ‘aesthetics of repose’ into the landscape, as David Roessel calls it in his study of philhellenism (2002: 18), evolved with time into the language of tourism. Colonialism and tourism either shared the conviction that the newly ‘discovered’ territories are devoid of historical traumas (Barbara ← 4 | 5 → O’Connor qtd in Flannery 2010: 88), or looked at these landscapes with history-oriented nostalgia, as Shelley, Byron, Keats and other philhellenes did, perceiving Greece through the lens of antiquity. In the twentieth century, this attitude rapidly fluctuated into the concept of the pleasure periphery, ‘a tourist belt surrounding the great industrialized zones of the world’ (Turner and Ash 1975: 11) including Greek sea resorts and, in my opinion, Ireland to a lesser extent. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, with the advent of the Celtic Tiger, the question of tourism shifted to ‘what to do with the past?’: during the economic boom preoccupied with the present and the future, a pressure emerged to sell both history as national heritage and nature as ‘an eco-friendly sanctuary from the wasting breath of the industrial revolution’ (Cronin and O’Connor 2003: 10–11). Greek and Irish poets, however, have been asking the question ‘what to do with the past?’ for at least two centuries, struggling with the shadows of their respective histories and mythologies. Simultaneously, although Ireland and Greece largely escaped ‘the wasting breath of the industrial revolution’, some of these poets tried (or still try) to seek ‘purer’ landscapes of Irish hills and lakes, of Greek islands, or even of ambiguous (impure?) borderlands of city outskirts. An example of the latter is the poetry of Tellos Agras, translated and presented in this volume by David Ricks. Other poets, such as Paula Meehan, do not consider urban/rural divides useful: discovering biodiversity and human diversity in derelict areas, she believes in ‘the interinanimation of nature with the built environment’ in a civilizing process.4

First and foremost however, historically speaking, we find ourselves well beyond the sentimental urge for the return to nature: this is a very precarious moment in the life of the planet. Poetry has been claimed to be one of the most suitable forms to confront this moment, perhaps because of its instantaneous philosophical insight and its metaphorical superstructures. Characteristically, critics have been talking about ecopoetics or ecopoesis and not ‘ecoprose’ or ‘ecodrama’ (notwithstanding the ancient root of poesis as ποιέω, to make). ‘For poets as for scientists this is the moment ← 5 | 6 → for bold hypotheses, coupled with the closest observations’, John Elder claimed (2010: 3), further advocating, like other ecocritics, the necessity of integrating environmental criticism with scientific research and activism. Greg Garrard and Susanna Lindström defined poetry’s potential in the times of ecological crisis as follows:

Starting with a similar presumption, the present volume probes, in the form of poems, essays and interviews, poetry’s response both to the authors’ internal landscapes and to the widely understood external environment, including nature, culture, society and technology, in Ireland and Greece: two countries where poetry has been equally and essentially significant, and where it played a vital role in shaping the national consciousness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is just one of the reasons why Ireland has been juxtaposed here with Greece in particular.

To link other reasons to the contexts we have already mentioned, both countries have had their share in this precarious moment in the life of the planet. ‘A comfortably dispersed population and a heavy reliance on imports has spared Ireland much of the true ecological cost of living in the developed world’, Michael Viney observed in A Living Island (2003: 32). Difficult physical conditions and low industrialization in both countries contributed to this state of affairs. Yet throughout the ages, forest territory and farming land in Ireland and Greece dramatically dwindled for historical and economic reasons, including spreading fires (some of them man-generated); back in antiquity, earthquakes and volcano eruptions in Greece brought entire civilizations to ruin; quarries, and more recently, wind and solar farms permanently transformed familiar landscapes; national metropolises grew meteorically within a short period of time, and expanded even more with the construction boom in Ireland and the refurbishing of Athens for the Olympic Games; and now Greece cannot cope with the ← 6 | 7 → influx of refugees, while society faces a financial disaster (much worse in Greece than in Ireland, though also worth comparing). This dire crisis of nature and society, however, may turn out just as fertile to literature as times of wars and conflicts: much of great literature has paradoxically stemmed from the bleakest moments in human history. In this challenging situation, as the British philosopher Kate Soper claims, the postcolonial margins have an advantage over metropolitan power in that they can ‘offer an eco-critique of hegemonic representations of “progress”, “development”, and human well-being’; and Ireland can serve as an interesting case study of such an approach (2016: 169–70). Analogously, Greece’s substantial poetic feedback to the present predicament (collected, for instance, in Futures: Poetry of the Greek Crisis, published nota bene by Penned in the Margins, 2015) can exemplify a case study of the nation immersed in the ‘troubles’, whose advantage in this particular moment is to criticize hegemonic representations of ‘progress’ and ‘development’.

A traveller hunting for unchanged ancient landscapes in Greece will still find a lot of excavation sites in their place, though some of them were besieged by fires (Olympia in 2007), transformed by ‘chemical skies’ (to borrow Derek Mahon’s diagnosis of Delos,5 whose Naxian lions were effaced by atmospheric conditions), surrounded by tourist kitsch (Knossos, Delphi), or by virtual ecological catastrophes (the deplorable fate of Eleusina destroyed by the oil industry).6 Yet Anna Griva, for instance, considers Eleusina a place of magnetic attraction and mythical continuation; mythology is ‘the present to be transformed into the future’,7 and her poetry verifies this statement. An Irish poet, on the other hand, seems especially receptive to the sense of the sacred temenos in Greek landscape as it corresponds to the Celtic worship of places and translates into the concept of dinnseanchas, the point raised by Paula Meehan in her first lecture as Ireland Professor of Poetry and in the interview in this volume. ← 7 | 8 →

Among other convergences between Ireland and Greece one can indicate their insular character, which in general seems to determine the spatial awareness and perception of borders contrastive to the mainland inhabitants’ (Bassnett 2002: 8–9). Contributing to the potent topos in national literatures since Homer and Saint Brendan the Navigator, a long history of seafaring, often bound with emigration and exile, is yet another characteristic which both countries share. Harry Clifton’s poem ‘The Year of the Yellow Meal’ (2012) reprinted here, renders an image of the Irish exile evocative of George Seferis’ Mythistorema (even more than of the Odyssey) in Clifton’s depiction of the sea as ‘blind force, necessity’ and of the ‘Irish Greeks’ drifting in leaking vessels. The protagonists’ deracination from the Blasket Islands, where they lived in ‘a timeless, ahistorical dimension’,8 is followed by an abrupt ‘fall into time’ and ‘fall into history’, to borrow, respectively, Emil Cioran’s and Mircea Eliade’s expressions; and these preoccupations interlock with the postcolonial intimations and resigned tone of the Greek Nobelist’s masterpiece. The Irish poet, who emigrated and travelled the world to return to Ireland only in the twenty-first century, also paints his ‘dream of the roots’ in ‘After Ireland’, and walks James Joyce’s ‘Hellenic city’ along ‘the arc of the odyssey’ (‘Eccles Street, Bloomsday 1982’). The Homeric theme, via C. P. Cavafy’s ‘Ithaca’, has also given the incentive to Theo Dorgan to rewrite Cavafy in a poem of the same title, included in his collection Greek (2010) and reprinted here.9 A sailor himself, Dorgan takes Odysseus on the final journey in reverse order (setting out of, and not for, Ithaca), makes him confront the loss again, and concludes: ‘Man is born homeless, and shaped for the sea’. Rewriting this theme after Homer rather than Cavafy,10 Yiorgos Chouliaras, in turn, in his own version of the Odyssey (‘Odysseus at Home’), imagines the Greek hero returning directly to Ithaca in a suitor’s disguise and starting weaving secretly in order to ‘delay history’ when all the suitors become part of Penelope’s plot. His other poem ‘Refugees’, with its image of exile and ← 8 | 9 → rupture with the past, could refer both to the 1922 Asia Minor Catastrophe and to the present crisis.

The migration narratives connecting both countries go well back in history. In his study of the medieval Irish origin legend, Bart Jaski traces the concept of the Greek origin of the Gaelic Irish, ‘one among those “alternative” traditions which fell victim to the processes of selecting, combining, adding, discarding, and rewriting’. In the legend, the Irish descended from the forefather of the Ionian Greeks (2003: 6), while an Irish early medieval glossary provides the etymology of the name Tara as derived from the Greek language and mythology (2003: 12–13). In the interview included here, Paula Meehan refers to the Irish Bronze Age and the displaced tribe of the Milesians, who apparently originated in the eastern Aegean and came to Ireland after the explosion on Thera. Associations between Ireland and Greece in more recent historical, linguistic and cultural periods are numerous, and have been spotted by Peter Bien in his essay ‘Inventing Greece’ (2005), by Richard Pine in his Greece through Irish Eyes (2015), in my own book Irish Poets and Modern Greece (2017), and in the essays and interviews included in the present book. I will only add that one of Liana Sakelliou’s poems here, ‘Bird of Death: April 21, 1967’, in a masterly way conveys the oppressive atmosphere of the Greek junta, the event which, alongside the Catastrophe and the Cyprus conflict, have inspired comparisons with the history of the ‘Troubles’ in Irish poetry (O’Grady, Montague, Mahon).

Landscapes of Irish and Greek Poets opens with eight chapters. The first six of them connect Ireland with Greece and focus mainly on travel and landscape, including places modern and ancient, insular and suburban, real and imagined. Characteristically, contemporary Greek poets travelling to Ireland and Irish poets travelling to Greece emphasize the sense of feeling at home in the countries they visit. Part I is introduced by a personal reflection of the Greek poet Yiorgos Chouliaras, who travelled in Ireland, worked in the diplomatic service in Dublin, and befriended Irish poets. The ‘Hibernophile’ author draws parallels between Ireland and Greece as ‘countries of imagination’ where ‘topologies [have been] transmuted into mythologies via poetry’. Poetry’s task being creating landscapes of words, it seems particularly suited to mediate borders and act as a pivot between home and exile; and his poems included in Part IV of this volume, for instance ‘Refugees’, evince this function of poetry. ← 9 | 10 →

The five following chapters present either Irish poets’ engagement with Greece, or the use of landscapes in Irish and Greek poetry separately. Rowena Fowler’s inquiry into Seamus Heaney’s Greek motifs, including antiquity and a more modern perspective, scans his poetic oeuvre for a wealth of tropes and literary mentors associated with his reading and his later travels in Greece at the turn of the century. The natural world, otherwise featuring so profoundly in Heaney’s Irish landscapes, often bridges a temporal and spatial gap between the two countries. In Chapter 3, Benjamin Keatinge turns his attention to Richard Murphy’s poems inspired by the poet’s two visits to Crete in the 1950s, and argues the importance of the Greek experience for the shaping of Murphy’s later tones, themes and ‘sense of poetic purpose’. Not surprisingly for Murphy, whose ‘prophetic’ work marks ‘the beginning […] of a contemporary Irish ecological literature’ (Eamonn Wall 2010: 5), it was Cretan landscapes that evoked his fondest memories after many years, although the island’s heroic war resistance and the poetry of Cavafy also contributed to that Greek imprint. My own chapter explores the ‘Irish phenomenon’ on Paros: the presence of Irish poets (Desmond O’Grady, Derek Mahon, Michael Longley and Rory Brennan) on this Cycladic island from the 1960s to the present moment. Their encounter with Paros intertwines with their translation of Cavafy, their research into Celtic tribal narratives, the conflicts in Greece and Ireland, personal issues, and primarily, the plexus of natural and cultural landscape energies on the island. In Chapter 5, the purpose of David Ricks’ choice of a Greek poet of the 1920s to 1940s, Tellos Agras, was also to restore balance to the nature-oriented research into landscapes. Tellos’ work fascinatingly delves into the neglected Athenian suburbs while engaging with Greek and European tradition, and the author of the chapter offers, by means of his own translation, a more comprehensive insight into his oeuvre, virtually unknown in the English language. In the final chapter of Part I, Jerzy Jarniewicz juxtaposes Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s poems using nature-related metaphors for language. If Ní Chuilleanáin rewrites patriarchal and nationalist myths from the feminist perspective, Ní Dhomhnaill, in her collection which bears fruit of the ‘creative partnership’ of Ireland’s two languages, depicts the insecure position of Irish Gaelic on the one hand, and its status beyond control and ownership on the other. ← 10 | 11 →

The next two chapters, written by poets represented in this volume, sketch an antagonistic axis of landscape perception, with wilderness at one pole and technology at the other. They attest to Irish poets’ more theoretical approach – despite Leontia Flynn’s personal tone – to the external/internal landscape tension. In the first chapter of Part II, ‘Wilderness and Technology’, Caitríona O’Reilly probes American literature as a vital source of inspiration for those Irish poets who address the natural world. The poet situates her discussion of the wilderness between three points of reference: (1) the patron saints of American environmental writing, Henry David Thoreau and the ‘hardly unproblematic’ Ralph Waldo Emerson; (2) literary attempts to define the [wild] abyss that stares back (Nietzsche’s concept); (3) and poets with ‘ethical regard’ who ‘decentre the human’: Elizabeth Bishop and John Haines. Her preoccupation with American poetry also alludes to the American origins of ecocriticism or the environmental thought in literary studies. Thoreau’s conclusion that wildness surpasses human perception has found a perfect match in O’Reilly’s own poetry, whose speaker is touched by the ‘vast multitudinous silence’ (‘Snow’), observes the landscape’s epitomes of heat (‘August on Dungeness’), dust and colour (‘An Idea of Iowa’), and makes nature witness to human atrocities (‘Autotomy’). Another poet of this volume who believes in ‘nature as unappropriable Other’ is Paula Meehan with her ‘ecofeminist poetics’, as her writing has been called (Kirkpatrick 2010: 112, 110), although in an earlier interview the poet admitted to being interested in ‘the emotional or psychic wilderness rather than the physical one’ (Praga 1998: 80).

Opening Chapter 8 with an account of her own evolving fascination with the virtual landscape of the Internet, Leontia Flynn’s ‘Poetry and the Digital Age’ aims at defining the place of poetry in ‘the onslaught of technological advancement’. The author starts with the analysis of young British poets using the language of the Web, and passes to Mebdh McGuckian and Paul Muldoon, whose referential poetry prophesied ‘the fracture and shorthand of internet communication’. The author defends poetry as its own reality, an experience, and ‘an alternative form of human communication’. Flynn’s own poetry here reflects on ‘all that is instant and intangible’ (‘Poem in Homage to Built Things in Three Dimensions’) and on swiftly changing technology as a sign of transience (‘The Floppy Disk’) or of persisting memory (‘Poems for Turning 40’). ← 11 | 12 →

The interviews and poems included in Parts III and IV of this book will speak for themselves, so I will limit myself to a few remarks here. Out of other poets included in Part IV, two are also experienced translators of Irish poets: Liana Sakelliou translated Brendan Kennelly’s poems and edited a volume of his poetry; and Haris Vlavianos translated Longley’s poems and Heaney’s prose mainly. Liana Sakelliou, American poetry specialist, also shares great appreciation for Gary Snyder’s work with Paula Meehan, and believes poetry to be ‘the ecology of the mind, the spirit and the body’. Haris Vlavianos, specializing in history and politics, discusses the dangers of engaged poetry, affirming, however, that ‘all poems are political because they address the times’.11 The interviews with Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan form a part of a larger cycle of interviews including other poets represented in this volume. These interviews perfectly complement their contribution to this publication and can be listened to online (<http://www.irellas.com>, bookmark ‘interviews’). They will appear in a separate book.12

In the interviews included here, Meehan and Dorgan also refer to the human- and eco-system of Ikaria. On this particular island, they were preceded by MacNeice in the early 1950s. Ikaria features as ‘The Island’ in the separate part of his Ten Burnt Offerings, the collection where ‘we can read a submerged civil war theme as running through the book as a whole’, as David Ricks argues in his unpublished paper ‘MacNeice in Greece’ (2012). MacNeice also read Seferis, and ‘The Island’ presents itself as ‘an authentically, if not tightly, post-Seferian poem’.13 Neither of these poets travelling to Ikaria shared Durrell’s impression of the island’s ‘vacillating purpose’ and ‘an unkempt air, as if it has never been loved by any of its inhabitants’ (2002: 181); quite the contrary, as the interviews included here prove.

The choice of some Irish poets in Part IV – Paula Meehan, Theo Dorgan – was inspired by their relations with Greece, while that of some Greek poets – Yiorgos Chouliaras, Liana Sakelliou, Haris Vlavianos – by ← 12 | 13 → their relations with Ireland; ‘relations’ involving travel, work and translation. In a more general perspective, all of the poets represented in this volume, including those who travelled to Greece for the first time in 201514 and those who have never been to Ireland, had been selected because of their unique path into landscape: an external natural/urban/political one, an internal set of references and perceptions, and the way they interact with each other.

Last but not least, an editorial remark: since Yiorgos Chouliaras’ and Leontia Flynn’s chapters use a personal tone and freer style, they have not been supplied with references, as opposed to the rest of the chapters included in this book.


XIV, 310
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (February)
Irish poetry Modern Greek poetry Landscape
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2018. XIV, 310 pp., 2 coloured ill., 2 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Joanna Kruczkowska (Volume editor)

Joanna Kruczkowska is Associate Professor in the Institute of English Studies at the University of Lodz, where she specializes in ecocriticism and comparative literature in a socio-political context, focusing particularly on Irish, Polish and modern Greek poetry. She is the author of Irish Poets and Modern Greece: Heaney, Mahon, Cavafy, Seferis (2017).


Title: Landscapes of Irish and Greek Poets
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326 pages