Remembering the future: Poetry, peace, and the politics of memory in Northern Ireland

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Abstract

This article examines the politics of memory informing Northern Irish poetry published after the Good Friday Agreement of 10 April 1998, a period during which an uncertain and ambiguous peace process has played out. It argues that the preoccupation of many poets with practices of remembering and forgetting suggests that, on a cultural level at least, Northern Ireland’s explosive past has yet to be successfully decommissioned and consigned to the archive of history. Treating the idea of an achieved peace and its anticipated economic dividend with scepticism or irony, many of the poems considered exhibit profoundly complex, distorted conceptions of time and temporality, insistently registering historical occlusions and ruptures in the fabric of social memory. Drawing upon theories of memory and peace developed in the work of Paul Ricoeur, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida, I argue that contemporary poetry from Northern Ireland contests the equation of peace with a culture of amnesia. When memory is commodified as nostalgia or heritage it becomes impossible either to confront the legacies of the past or to remember the future. Attending to questions of form as well as a number of recurrent thematic concerns, I seek to illustrate the various ways in which Northern Irish poets engage with such pressing dilemmas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-79
Number of pages21
JournalTextual Practice
Volume32
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 07 Nov 2016

Keywords

  • Northern Ireland
  • poetry
  • memory
  • peace
  • Michael Longley
  • Ciaran Carson
  • Medbh McGuckian
  • Sinéad Morrissey
  • Alan Gillis

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