Edited By Ruben Moi, Brynhildur Boyce and Charles Armstrong
Between Text, Video and Performance: Landscape in Pamela Brown’s ‘Ireland Unfree’
In his 2007 essay on ‘The Role of Performance in Contemporary Irish Poetry’, the Galway-based poet Kevin Higgins frames his article on Irish performance poetry with a story of his trip to London, during which he was warned by a local poet not to advertise his participation in poetry slams or performance poetry competitions. In Britain, he was told, there is a clear distinction (or, as he puts it, ‘a metaphorical Berlin Wall, complete with barbed wire and quite vicious guard-dogs’) between the culture of performance and the culture of mainstream poetry. Higgins then examines the poetic culture of his native Ireland, and extends his look beyond the twentieth- and twenty-first-century literary experience to the eighteenth century and beyond. He shows, as many others have similarly done, that Irish poetry’s roots are in a culture which made little if any distinction between poetry and its performance in song.1 His chosen example is another Galway performer Antoine Ó Raifteirí (1779–1835), an illiterate poet whose poems were never written down in his lifetime but were still sung in County Galway when Yeats and Lady Gregory gathered folk material in the area ← 45 | 46 → in the late nineteenth century.2 For Higgins, Ó Raifteirí is a fellow spirit and would, if he were alive now, be sending emails to attend poetry slams in Galway City. But as Higgins sees it, it was all downhill from the nineteenth century onwards, as poetry withdrew into the drawing room and to the university....
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