Poetry in Northern Ireland over the last few decades has shown remarkable vibrancy and diversity. The troubled political situation has certainly contributed to the energy and urgency of this poetry, as writers have struggled with the difficult task of finding a voice that speaks to and through the conflict. Poets are exposed to intense external pressure to comment on ‘the situation’, but once they do, they open themselves up to accusations of easy exploitation of violence for literary effect, as well as keen moral scrutiny of every aspect of their ‘position’. Seamus Heaney’s poetry, in particular, has, over the years, been the subject of fierce debate and has served as the substratum for the development of a fascinating critical discourse on the relationship between poetry and politics in the Northern Irish context. This criticism is, of course, only a part of a larger debate concerning Irish literature generally. Since W.B. Yeats’s troubled question, ‘Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?’,1 Irish writers in the twentieth century have turned over and over the complex issues surrounding the political efficacy and responsibility of the artist.
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