Exclusion and inclusion of Irish poets
A chara, – Please allow me to reply to Michael O’Loughlin’s charge that I have been responsible for the “deliberate exclusion of an entire generation” of poets from The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry(“Missing: Have you seen these poets?”, Culture, October 26th). The named members of O’Loughlin’s “lost generation” (not all of whom, incidentally, are omitted from the book) were born between 1952 and 1964. My anthology reproduces poems by nine writers born in this period. No fewer than eight of them come from the Republic, a statistic that throws doubt on the claim that I ignore the southern polity.
The Penguin Book is a historical anthology that attempts to represent Irish poetry from the earliest times to the present. The contemporary section had to strive for proportionality with the earlier parts of the book and thus had to be eclectic. The pages covering the 39 years from 1971 to 2009 nevertheless include 40 poets, a generous sampling compared to 45 for the period from 1601 to 1800 or 18 for the four decades from 1881. The current health of poetry in Ireland can be cited to justify at least some of the over-representation of the present.
If I had made space for the minimum of 23 additional poets recommended by Mr O’Loughlin the shape of the book would have been fatally compromised. It is unreasonable to expect the contemporary pages of a historical anthology to offer a “field guide to living poets”. As to the accusation of “deliberate exclusion”, I confess that the choices were the result of much deliberation. This focused on the inclusion of poems rather than the exclusion of poets, though, and the book in fact includes more Irish poems than any earlier single-volume anthology. As the choice of one poem can only be made at the expense of another, it was inevitable that many interesting pieces had to be sacrificed to make way for texts that seemed to promise the reader slightly greater reward.
Why are editors of anthologies regarded as hanging judges? Why, in other words, is the choice of the work of A over that of B seen as a condemnation of B? I have written favourably, in the review pages of this paper and elsewhere, about the poems of some of those on Mr O’Loughlin’s roll whose work was, in many cases after prolonged and painful consideration, left off the final Contents list of my book. – Is mise,