Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Irish poetry

St. Patrick’s Day is a time for celebrating all things Irish, but Wake Forest University Press — the premier publisher of Irish poetry in North America — celebrates Irish culture year-round.

Now in its fourth decade, the Press publishes virtually all of Ireland’s foremost poets as well as a new generation of younger writers who are reflecting on the dramatic transformation of Irish society over the past 20 years, along with the traditional concerns of Irish poets — faith, oppression, family and “The Troubles.”

Some of Jeff Holdridge’s favorite Irish poems, all published by Wake Forest University Press.

  • Derek Mahon, “The Globe in North Carolina” from The Hunt by Night: I like this poem very much because the poet wrote it while he was teaching here, but I treasure it because it is a beautiful meditation on separation, cultural interplay and natural beauty.
  • Ciaran Carson, “Belfast Confetti” from Selected Poems: This is an evocative poem that shows how poetry and politics, the violence of language and the violence of human beings, influence one another. Listen to Ciaran Carson read “Belfast Confetti”
  • Michael Longley, “Ceasefire” from Collected Poems: A telling poem that uses myth to both celebrate and investigate the fragility of the ceasefire in Northern Ireland.
  • Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, “Fireman’s Lift” from Selected Poems: A poem that brilliantly brings together Italian painting, religion and the pain of loss as it searches for connections between the death of the mother and the Assumption of the Virgin.
  • Paula Meehan, “The Wolf Tree” from Painting Rain: A deep contemplation on the intersection of culture and nature.

“I love the formality of Irish poetry: the sense of the well-made poem and the discipline that formal rigor can bring,” said Jeff Holdridge, associate professor of English and director of the Press. “Many of the concerns of Irish poets are the concerns of American ones, too.”

As Irish society has changed, Irish poetry has entered a time of transition as well, Holdridge said. With “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland now fading from young memories, the next generation of Irish poets may not draw inspiration from the experience of living in a divided country. Will it become more European or will it remain distinctively Irish?

“Whatever one can say of future Irish poetry, it will be different, but it’s difficult to say that it won’t be as strong as it is today,” Holdridge said. “In fact, it already is different and equally good; poets, especially younger ones, have recently added many new strings to their repertoire, such as reflecting on global culture and expressing ecological concerns.”

Holdridge remembered an Irish language poet insisting that “if the Irish language truly died out, then Irish poetry in English would be indistinguishable from English poetry.”

Such a worry, Holdridge said, “goes back to Yeats himself who thought that the parlance of English journalism had corrupted 19th-century English poetry, but he believed that this hadn’t happened in the peasant Ireland of his day, which gave him hope for a new national literary movement.”

The Press publishes three to five new titles a year. Next month will see the publication of the newest collection by MIchael Longley, A Hundred Doors. Next fall, the Press is publishing a second, revised edition of the 1999 groundbreaking anthology, The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry.

The Press has published editions of the collected poems of Longley, Thomas Kinsella, John Montague and Richard Murphy, and books featuring works by such prominent writers as Derek Mahon, Conor O’Callaghan, Medbh McGuckian, Ciaran Carson, Paul Muldoon, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.

Holdridge lived in Dublin for 14 years, earning his masters and doctoral degrees and teaching at University College Dublin, before joining the Wake Forest faculty in 2002. The Press office also consists of longtime assistant director Candide Jones (’72, MA ’78) and student-interns Caroline Hallemann, Amanda Rousseau, Taylor Ryan, Alyssa Walter, Maura Connolly and Hannah Kay Hunt.

Read more about the Wake Forest University Press in the Wake Forest Magazine.

— By Kerry M. King (’85), Office of Communications and External Relations