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Scholarcast 16: Poems and Paradigms

Edna Longley


In ‘Poems and Paradigms’ Edna Longley argues that the “archipelagic” paradigm is crucial to the criticism of modern poetry in English. Quoting John Kerrigan on ‘the expansive, multi-levelled, polycentric aspects of the literary and cultural field’, she discusses five poems which display their archipelagic co-ordinates on the surface: W.B. Yeats’s ‘Under Saturn’ (1919), Philip Larkin’s ‘The Importance of Elsewhere’ (1955), W.S. Graham’s ‘Loch Thom’ (1977), Edward Thomas’s ‘The Ash Grove’ (1916) and Louis MacNeice’s ‘Carrick Revisited’ (1945).

For Longley, the poems’ deeper aesthetic dynamics epitomise how influences move around within the archipelago, and she particularly emphasises serial transformations of Wordsworth and Yeats. She sees archipelagic and national paradigms as complementary, but criticises the way in which national poetic canons marginalise ‘border cases’, saying: ‘If a poem doesn’t fit the paradigm, change the paradigm’.

She goes on to suggest that, in the mid twentieth century, the aesthetic significance of Yeats’s mature poetry was most significantly absorbed by MacNeice and by English poets such as Auden, Larkin, Ted Hughes and Geoffrey Hill. She ends by proposing that all this throws light on the archipelagic sources of “Northern Irish poetry”.

Edna Longley 

Edna Longley is Professor Emerita in the School of English at Queen’s University Belfast. She has published widely on modern poetry and on Irish literary and cultural questions. Her books include Louis MacNeice: A Study (Faber, 1988), The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland (Bloodaxe, 1994) and Poetry & Posterity (Bloodaxe, 2000). She has edited The Bloodaxe Book of Modern Poetry from Britain and Ireland (2000) and Edward Thomas: The Annotated Collected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2006). She has recently been involved in the collaborative project: ‘Modern Irish and Scottish Poetry: Relations and Comparisons’. Edna Longley is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.


Series edited by: John Brannigan.
Commissioning Editor: P.J. Mathews 
Scholarcast original theme music by: Padhraic Egan, Michael Hussey and Sharon Hussey.
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