New Critical Perspectives
Joyful Mysteries: Language and Spirituality in Medbh McGuckian’s Recent Poetry The oblique nature of Medbh McGuckian’s poetic strategies is well doc- umented. Most challenging, perhaps, are the inexplicable shifts in sub- ject position by which the representation of experience within the poem becomes fragmented. This disintegration is immediately felt in the lin- guistic slippage that is characteristic of McGuckian. John Lucas has criti- cised her language for its self-defeating transitions, and there is a sense of wilful obscurity in much of her work that raises issues about the kinds of meaning she wishes to suggest or uncover. It is precisely these ‘tran- sitions’, however, that are among the keys to her method. Her poetry is both disturbing and striking by virtue of its ability to displace established meanings, to remove the interpretative centre, to shift between forms and positions while at the same time not explicitly denying their validity. It is a movement that ensures constant re-creation of form and meaning, as an earlier poem ‘Mazurka’ suggests: ‘A newly-understood poem will melt / And be hard again’ (1988: 22). For Danielle Sered, this process is essential to McGuckian’s achievement: ‘[she] comes to regard the breakdown of language and all its attendant breaches as a source, rather than limit, of her poetic voice’ (2002: 273). Medbh McGuckian thus puts immense strain on her words, insist- ing on layers of meaning that may be scarcely available to the reader, yet the tone never strives after the momentous: as Eamon Grennan remarks, ‘[t...
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