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France and Ireland

Notes and Narratives

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Edited By Una Hunt and Mary Pierse

The rich association between Ireland and France is embodied in music, art and creative writing from both countries and this collection provides a tantalising selection of these interweaving influences. The book presents a vivid picture of interactions between composers, performers, poets and novelists on each side of the Celtic Sea. Surprises abound, with music unexpectedly linking Ireland and France through George Alexander Osborne and Frédéric Chopin, through Thomas Moore and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, through Irish-inspired French opera and a French-directed Irish orchestra. Words and music meet in a Kate O'Brien novel, a musical interpretation of Verlaine and a selection of Paula Meehan's poetry, while the encounter between wine and music creates new possibilities for artistic and cultural expression. Exploring the works and influence of a wide range of figures including James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Jacques Derrida, J.M. Synge, Hélène Cixous, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Hector Berlioz, Maurice Ravel, Neil Jordan and John Field, the essays collected here uncover a wealth of artistic interconnections between France and Ireland.
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‘The music you’re carrying in your head’: Reading Hélène Cixous in the ‘Breath’ of Paula Meehan’s Poetry

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In ‘Coming to Writing’ and Other Essays (Entre l’écriture), French writer Hélène Cixous urges others to accept ‘the anguish of submersion’, to be ‘of a body with the river all the way to the rapids rather than with the boat’.1 This involves danger, a particular ‘feminine pleasure’, according to Cixous, and provides the writer with alternative perspectives and renewed creative scope.2 It is a state of writing which moves beyond what is steadfast and known, giving primacy to the inspirational surge of writing rather than to the structures of poetic form. This chapter will examine the work of the recently appointed Ireland Professor of Poetry, Paula Meehan, in terms of such Cixousian conceptions of writing, making reference to poems from the 2009 collection Painting Rain and the 2000 collection Dharmakaya.3 In many of her poems, Meehan engages with what is elemental and in flux – breath, water – rather than following what is constant, whole or steady, as the boat in the example above might be viewed. Moving towards ← 231 | 232 → the rapids as the river, rather than as the boat, as Cixous outlines, means identifying, and identifying with, all the twists and minute changes of the journey, being aware of current and diversion, tempo change and crescendo as the pulse and pace increase: one’s progress is uncontrollable in comparison to that of the boat. Meehan’s oeuvre has been analysed from various perspectives, including in terms of her use of memory4 but this chapter proposes that with...

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