Northern Windows/Southern Stars

Selected Early Essays 1983-1994

by Gerald Dawe (Author)
©2022 Monographs XIV, 166 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 109


Northern Windows/Southern Stars is a valuable, accessible and thought-provoking gathering of essays by the distinguished Irish poet and Professor Emeritus, Gerald Dawe. Re-tracing the issues and questions of poetry and politics in the Ireland of the 1980s and 1990s, the collection provides energetic and unexpected views of one poet’s critical readings, including the work of several overlooked poets of the time. While offering fascinating insights into the early processes of reimagining the canon of Irish poetry, Northern Windows/Southern Stars is full of thoughtful and telling reports from a very different Ireland at the point of significant transition by the turn of the millennium.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1 Brief Confrontations
  • Chapter 2 A Gritty Prod Baroque: Tom Paulin
  • Chapter 3 Northern Windows/Southern Stars
  • Chapter 4 A Question of Imagination
  • Chapter 5 How’s the Poetry Going?
  • Chapter 6 Invocation of Powers: John Montague
  • Chapter 7 Potent Music: Yeats’s Legacy
  • Chapter 8 Critical Mass
  • Chapter 9 The Parochial Idyll: W. R. Rodgers
  • Chapter 10 An Unmoved Mind: John Millington Synge
  • Chapter 11 Our Secret Being: Padraic Fiacc
  • Chapter 12 Breathing Spaces: Brendan Kennelly
  • Afterword (Nicholas Allen)
  • Bibliography
  • Series index


Looking back to when these essays were first written is chastening. For a start it is difficult to imagine how things were in the 1980s and early 1990s in an Ireland, north and south, still trying to adjust to the ongoing tragic impact of the Troubles, the slowly dawning public realization of the extent of human travesty conducted in the name of the Catholic Church (in the main) and the realignments which were taking place in our economic and political engagements with Britain and Europe. In what would become the defining symbolic act of the period – the election of Mary Robinson to the presidency of Ireland in 1990 – the surrounding literary and cultural conditions in the country were also changing as decades of economic policies ran into the ground and emigration soared. What had been a profoundly conservative society on both sides of the border, started to unwind. Now, half a century after the earliest of these essays first appeared, it is disorientating for me as writer and, I suspect, for the reader as well, to recognize how much actually has changed and how quickly. When we bear in mind the impact of Brexit and, hot on its angry heels, the Covid-19 pandemic with its terrible loss of life, the moral and ideological disaster of ‘Trumpism’, the world of twenty-first-century Ireland is indeed a very different place.

These though are factors well beyond the scope and competence of the present writer. Safe to say, however, that inscribed in this gathering of essays, devoted to writing from Ireland, there is, I hope, a justified and validated conviction that poetry matters. While the pressing issues today which swirl around the making and reading of poetry – of which gender equality, diversity, and inclusivity are the most currently debated – it is important to say that these issues are in themselves historical and form part of a longer and wider narrative of Irish, British, and North American cultural history. These essays only touch upon such matters tangentially since their concerns at the time of writing were other, generally trying to draw attention to lesser-known (male) poets whose work was being re-issued, ←ix | x→such as W. R. Rodgers or Padraic Fiacc. An early essay on Eavan Boland’s poetry collections, including The War Horse and Night Feed, along with other literary essays and editorial work will appear in a forthcoming collection, Politic Words: Essays in Irish Women’s Writing 1985–2022.

Some of the aesthetic concerns raised in Northern Windows/Southern Stars such as the influence of critical judgement and debate on how Irish writing, and in particular poetry, was viewed during the 1980s and early 1990s, seems now to belong to a literary culture that is no longer widely shared but is, on the contrary, dismissed as ‘elitist’. With the opportunities provided by online publication and the volume of material published online, in blogs, in digital magazines – and increasingly performed as spoken verse, in Rap-like sessions, Open Mic, in festivals throughout the country – it was only a matter of time before the idea of ‘criticism’ itself would become identified in the media and in the academy as an exclusionist act of forlorn patriarchal gate-keepers, even if judgements were often most trenchantly made by women critics.

Re-reading these essays in the 2020s will seem for many, I have little doubt, to be an exercise in historical re-visitation; going back, that is, to how things appeared to one who was trying to reason equably with himself and a relatively small, yet engaged readership of ‘little’ magazines in Ireland and elsewhere. The questions raised were about what was ‘good’ in this poet or that verse; about what was happening inside the culture as the forces of politics, or the rising influence of various cultural forces – marketing, PR, and the proliferation of literature as entertainment – became increasingly more popular in Irish society from the late 1980s and 1990s onwards. The work included here was mostly based on personal impression, and the tentative conclusions reached in, say, ‘Critical Mass’, were not meant to be anything more than that – impressions, soundings, shots in the dark. Most of what follows was written in the spaces between a fairly demanding teaching schedule and the needs of finding the time and sympathetic routine for producing poems of my own. What connects these different factors was the students, to whom this book is dedicated – along with the late and much missed poet-critic Dennis O’Driscoll – students of poetry who for forty years or so matched and superseded my love of the art with their own ideas, experience, and knowledge in lecture ←x | xi→hall, seminar room and tutorial office. It was never really a job, or a ‘career’. If I led the conversation, they, from all various arts and parts of Ireland, the UK, Europe, US, and further afield, took over and made it, to quote Philip Larkin’s poem ‘The Trees’, ‘afresh, afresh, afresh’.

– Gerald Dawe

Dún Laoghaire

County Dublin

December 2021


Northern Windows/Southern Stars is a selection of the poetry and literary essays which were originally collected in The Proper Word: Ireland, Poetry, Politics, edited with an introduction by Nicholas Allen and published by David Gardiner in the United States in 2007. A revised and shortened version of Professor Allen’s introduction to that volume is included here with his consent as a retrospective. I want to thank Jonathan Williams for all his help over many decades; his contribution to the wider Irish literary scene has been indispensable; and to the fine scholar Conor Linnie who brought the diverse material into working order, good wishes and thanks for his patience. With the publisher I would like to acknowledge the following books, journals, and magazines where the material in Northern Windows/Southern Stars was originally published along with the editors and publishers who commissioned the essays identified below in chronological order of their publication date:

‘Brief Confrontations: The Irish Writer’s History’, The Crane Bag Vol. 7, No. 2, 1983.

‘A Gritty Prod Baroque: Tom Paulin’, Irish Literary Supplement Vol. 3. No. 1, 1984, Honest Ulsterman No. 82, Winter 1986 and No. 84, Winter 1987, The Irish Times, 16 November 1996.

‘Northern Windows/Southern Stars’, Linen Hall Review, Winter 1987, Spring 1988, Spring 1989.

‘A Question of Imagination’, Cultural Contexts and Literary Idioms in Contemporary Irish Literature, edited by Michael Kenneally. Gerrard’s Cross: Colin Smythe, 1988.

‘How’s the Poetry Going?’ Rhinoceros Magazine, Autumn, 1990.

‘Invocation of Powers: John Montague’, The Chosen Ground: Essays on Contemporary Poetry from Northern Ireland, edited by Neil Corcoran. Mid-Glamorgan: Seren Books, 1992.

←xiii | xiv→‘Critical Mass: Poetry and Ireland in the 1980s’, The Linen Hall Review, Autumn, 1993.

‘Potent Music’, An Introduction, Yeats: a new selection, edited by Gerald Dawe. Dublin: Anna Livia Press, 1993.

‘The Parochial Idyll: W. R. Rodgers’, Honest Ulsterman, No. 92, 1993.

‘An Unmoved Mind: J M Synge’ was written for an edition of Synge’s poetry which was unpublished. 1994.

‘Our Secret Being: Padraic Fiacc’, Ruined Pages: Selected Poems of Padraic Fiacc, edited by Gerald Dawe and Aodán Mac Póilin. Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1994.


XIV, 166
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (March)
IRISH POETRY - 1980s & 90s IRISH LITERATURE IRISH STUDIES Northern Windows, Southern Stars Gerald Dawe
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XIV, 166 pp.

Biographical notes

Gerald Dawe (Author)

Gerald Dawe was born in 1952 in Belfast and attended the universities of Ulster and Galway. He taught for thirty years at Trinity College Dublin. Since his first collection Sheltering Places appeared in 1978 he has published over twenty books of poetry and non-fiction. He lives in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin.


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182 pages