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Scholarcast 25: 'Dreaming of the Islands': The Poetry of the Shipping Forecast

John Brannigan


This lecture examines poems which make reference to the Shipping Forecast, as broadcast by BBC Radio Four, including poems by Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy, Sean Street, Andrew McNeillie, and Andrew Waterman. The aim of the lecture is to consider how both the radio broadcast and the poems it inspired conceptualise the cultural geography of the British Isles. If culture is, as Wendy James has argued, ‘adverbial’ rather than ‘nominal’, what kind of cultural geography of the Isles is practised in the poems which draw upon the forecast’s daily and nightly ritual of naming the sea areas around Britain and Ireland? How might this maritime and archipelagic imagination of the Isles be related to current post-devolutionary attempts to reconceive the British Isles, both politically and intellectually? All of the poems revel in the forecast’s litany of names such as Dogger, Fastnet, Lundy, Heligoland and Finisterre, for example, which do not evoke places so much as they imply ideas of untapped spatial and cultural possibility within the British Isles. Might there be a utopian dimension to some of these poetic visions of the archipelago? On the other hand, some of the poems juxtapose domestic and maritime settings, and dramatise a tension between the safe and comfortable houses or beds in which listeners enjoy the broadcasts, and the exoticised coastal margins of the Isles in which the forecasts may be merely the ‘cold poetry of information’.

John Brannigan

John Brannigan is senior lecturer in English in University College Dublin. He is the author of Race in Modern Irish Literature and Culture (2009), Pat Barker (2005), Orwell to the Present: Literature in England, 1945-2000 (2003), Brendan Behan: Cultural Nationalism and the Revisionist Writer (2002),Literature, Culture and Society in Postwar England, 1945-1965(2002), and New Historicism and Cultural Materialism (1998). He is currently preparing a book on Twentieth-Century Literature in the British Isles: An Archipelagic History.He is series editor of ‘Reconceiving the British Isles’ on UCDscholarcast.


Series edited by: John Brannigan.
Commissioning Editor: P.J. Mathews 
Scholarcast original theme music by: Padhraic Egan, Michael Hussey and Sharon Hussey.
Recording, audio editing, photography and development by: John Matthews, Brian Kelly, Vincent Hoban &
Niall Watts at UCD IT Services, Media Services.

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