New Poetry, Fiction, Essays

Writing in the Dark, the neglect of Irish women’s poetry, by Flish McCarthy 

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The astonishing thing is that Irish women’s poetry is so brilliant.

Astonishing because the women writing in previous centuries have been repeatedly erased by a canon created and maintained by the gender privileged male.

Astonishing because if a woman had the passion to write in the dark, in between all of the other care put on her by society, if she maintained that passion and wrote anyway, she had to put her head above the parapet and become a target of silence or disapproval quickly followed by erasure.

Some like Anne Enright took this as permission to write as she liked, since no one was watching anyway. See LRB, Sept 2017 (London Review of Books)

Some made their way forward in a native tongue long neglected by the centre.

Some changed their names to non gender identifiable letters, or names that could go either way.

Cartoon about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.


Sure, he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger did everything he did… backwards and in high heels.  My point is that women are doubly challenged.  They must do twice as well as men.  There aren’t enough of us in the centres of power to be the deciders of what is culturally important.


It is the time to be strong together.  We have learned from Waking the Feminists, the world wide resurgence of feminism in response to fascism, #MeToo movement, that standing together is effective.


When a theatre director casually tweets “Them’s the breaks, ladies.” referring to the lack of to Irish women playwrights, actresses, directors in the 2016 commemoration  of the Easter Rising,  one woman was fired up enough to start a movement and Wake the Feminists was born.  Using social media and open access, she was able to bring us back into the fight for equality.


And here we are again, this time in the field of poetry, fighting against the erasure of women’s poetry as adjudicated by men.  Fighting to be included in the society which we continue to propagate and hold together.


I was in UCD’s Masters programme in Women’s Studies when Seamus Deane, after ten years of study, finally produced The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing.(1991)  He had left out many important women writers.Well, why would he?  He was privileged, empowered to choose what he found important.


When we roused ourselves, diverted ourselves from our studies, our work, our families and our lives to protest, he admitted to being “dismayed.”  We were outraged. Until women and men are equal in society, paid equally, valued equally, and adjudicating history together, our literature will reflect white male writing.


In the four previous years, I had been in a Single Honour English programme in Trinity, fighting for the right to study women writers. Taking my research on Nobel prize winning poets of the 20th century to the Modern Poetry professor, he waved his hand to indicate that these women were not of the same calibre, not as important.  I recommended I write my thesis on T.S. Eliot “since he had man-breasts.”  Stunned by this remark, I nonetheless insisted that I be permitted to make a study of H.D.’s epic poem, Helen in Egypt.   I won.


Over and over I have woken up to prejudice, gender bias in every lane of my life.  To tell it slant takes cunning, bravery, huevos, and time, which few women have.  Yet we make time for our art.  Then we must disassemble the editors, the adjudicators of festivals, the owners of the literature, and media, and sneak our good writing into the arena. We learn where to send our work, which publishers, editors and festival judges are likely to read our work and judge it by its merits.  By stealth, by slant, through a secondary language, by changing our names just to be read on the same level as men.


Christine Elisabeth Murray started Poethead, a poetry blog some years ago to balance the gender gap in Irish poetry.  Women today know they can find and read women poets of today and yesterday.


A Poet’s Pledge is Murray’s enough! response to the publication of The Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets.  Fired! on Poethead’s blog provides a preamble to The Pledge.  The Preamble provides  history of the many women writers that Gerald Dawe might have consulted and included in his text.


“Power concedes nothing without a demand.”   Frederick Douglas, 19th C slave, statesman, abolitionist.


Stand with us, sign The Pledge.


Flish McCarthy                                                                                       December 31, 2017



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