Genre Bending

Author: Kathryn Kirkpatrick (Appalachian State University)

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With three papers devoted wholly or in part to her work, Poetry Professor of Ireland Paula Meehan’s presence was felt at this year’s American Conference for Irish Studies. Of particular note was Rachael Hegarty’s paper on Friday afternoon’s Irish Poetry and Poetics panel: she discussed the poetic possibilities of intersectionality, bringing together not only gender and class in her reading of Meehan’s work (alongside the work of Dermot Bolger) but also her own family’s narrative of life in Finglas, the Dublin suburb where north inner city residents were resettled in housing estates beginning in the 1950s. Sharing both this class origin and neighborhood with Meehan, Hegarty explored the homeplace as a site of resistance where the matriarchal power of grannies supplies an important counternarrative to a patriarchal church and state. Not unlike the boundary-crossing perspective of Meehan herself, Hegarty interwove academic discourse, memoir, and creative nonfiction in ways that suggested exciting possibilities for the genre of the conference presentation itself.

Genre bending was also in evidence at Thursday afternoon’s Creative Nonfiction Reading where Tom McGuire’s lyrical meditation on shoes—his father’s, his son’s, his own—combined the personal, the topical, and the historical. ACIS’s openness to Irish studies scholars who also write poetry and/or creative nonfiction continues to be a strength; the conference has become a setting where gifted multi-genre writers like Ed Madden, Nathalie Anderson, Jim Rogers, Christine Cusick, and many others, flourish. This welcoming environment also draws Irish writers such as playwright Seamus Scanlon whose poignant and haunting tale of a son caring for a father with dementia was a significant contribution to the creative nonfiction session. Not inconsequential in nurturing this creative context is the generous engagement of the featured writers at ACIS who regularly attend the entire conference. Besides her splendid poetry reading, Sinéad Morrissey was a lively participant at more than one session.

Finally, the many roundtable sessions at the conference speak again to the experiments with genre that made this ACIS such a pleasure. Responding to the general fragmentation of academic conferences where participants sometimes have few texts in common, Julia Obert and Eric Falci’s organizing of poetry roundtables—this year around recent volumes by Ciaran Carson, Medbh McGuckian, Paul Muldoon and Derek Mahon—is a brilliant intervention. While attendees are obviously not required to do the reading, those who can and do add another level of engagement to the conference experience. In a different way the roundtable on the Worlding of Irish Studies on Thursday afternoon used this more flexible format to feature Irish Studies experts from around the world in an enlightening discussion of the ways the discipline is constructed internationally. Carle Bonafous-Murat observed that in France, Irish Studies exists in nearly all universities, whereas, perhaps surprisingly for many U.S scholars, neither postcolonial studies nor cultural studies are particularly emphasized. Laura Izarra traced the fascinating emergence of Irish studies in Latin America: although Argentina has the largest community of Irish in the non-English-speaking world, Brazil, with no such community, has been the origin of Irish Studies in Latin America. However, as new work emerges on Roger Casement’s time in Brazil, that country becomes a particular locus for the silenced stories of the Irish in South America. Approaching worlding from the outside in, Declan Kiberd explored the migrations to Ireland during the 1900s and 2000s. Finding the “newcomer” in Irish literature in English as early as Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent, he argued that contemporary Irish novels have abandoned any panoramic scope because authors find themselves living in an atomizing economy rather than a country with a common culture or shared community. The shared community of ACIS allows us to continue to make sense of Ireland in a globalized world.