At the 2013 Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Boston, I wandered among rows of bright, strange, and intriguing books piled high on independent poetry press tables. Hand-stamped, letter-pressed, spray-painted, ripped, sewn, and covered in tinfoil; poems shaped like boxes, poems printed on records, poems made into pop-ups or puzzles, or rolled as cigarettes — I even spotted a tiny book hidden inside a plastic egg.
By now, whether or not fans of his solution, all literary scholars — and perhaps even all readers — have confronted Franco Moretti’s classic problem: there is simply too much to read. And so, his argument goes, if critics and educators continue to rely exclusively on traditional practices of “close reading,” they must acknowledge that a vast number of literary works will necessarily go unread and unstudied as a result.
The writings writers write about writing have been curiously misread.
Battling the impossibility of being their own readers, writers are drawn to fuzzy logic when it comes to thinking and externalizing their thinking about the purpose, activity, outcomes, and future of writing that results in text that can be unstable in a variety of ways, and is sometimes difficult to read.
Discussions of the Irish poetry avant-garde, or avant-garde poetry from Ireland, or avant-garde poetry produced in Ireland, tend to focus on a lineage that begins with the quartet of Samuel Beckett, Brian Coffey, Thomas MacGreevy, and Denis Devlin, before continuing with Michael Smith’s New Writers Press and Trevor Joyce, Randolph Healy, Maurice Scully, Billy Mills, and Catherine Walsh. Sometimes there are extensions to include younger poets like Aodán McCardle and James Cummins. These poets have consistently rejected, or vigorously questioned, aspects that have come to seem inevitable to poetry from Ireland. And apart from one or two cases, their work has not become widely accessible.
Through multiple extensions, this lineage is slowly bearing an increasing influence to new writing from Ireland, posing a significant challenge to the blueprint of the (let’s call it) Heaney School.