The Lyric Feature – other poet stories rediscovered

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On Sunday April 17 at 6 p.m. on RTÉ lyric fm, Claire Cunningham presents sublime wishesthe final program in a series of three that tells the stories of poets whose work has been rediscovered.

Below, Claire describes how the series came to be.


On Saturday 6th October 2018 I spent the day sitting at the back of a large room at the Poetry Ireland premises in Parnell Square. I was there to attend an event called Missing Voices: Irish Women Poets of the 18th-20th Centuries.

Speaker after speaker gave a brief talk about an Irish poet from the distant past – and in some cases not too distant past – most of whom were completely new to me. I had heard of Lola Ridge, yes, because I had already started doing a show about her life and work for RTÉ lyric fm. I vaguely knew Patricia Avis and Blanaid Salkeld, but I had never read any of their poems. And the poem The man of God knows where rang a bell, though I could not have named the poet who wrote it, Florence Mary Wilson.

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Listen to the first episode of Sublimer Wishes

We heard of Ellen Taylor, who was born into poverty in the 18th century and worked as a servant. A slim book of her poems was published in 1792, but little is known of her beyond what can be gleaned from the introduction and from the poems themselves. Madge Herron, a Donegal-born poet who could be described as one of the first female performance poets. Angela Greene, who won the Patrick Kavanagh Prize in 1988, published her first – and only – collection in 1993, then disappeared.

I knew right away that I wanted to tell these stories on the radio. When RTÉ lyric fm commissioned a three-part series and BAI offered to fund the series under the Sound & Vision funding scheme, I started. I recorded the first interview, with Seán Hewitt talking about poet Emily Lawless, in February 2020 and, well, it all stopped.

Over the next two years, between lockdowns and Covid surges, I took the opportunity to register other contributors when I could.

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Listen to the second installment of Sublimer Wishes

It was particularly fascinating, in the case of some of the later poets, to meet family members and people who remembered them. Her friend Susan Connolly recalled how she and Angela Greene encouraged each other, and Angela’s daughter, Miriam Greene, described the room where her mother, surrounded by books, wrote, and the special moments they shared when his mother asked his opinion on poems in progress. . I met Madge Herron’s niece, Patricia Herron, in a remote valley in Donegal, beside the ruins of the house where Madge had lived as a child. In Belfast, Jennie McClearn recalled the eccentricities of her grandmother, Freda Laughton, and the thrill of discovering an archive of previously unseen works that is currently being studied by academic researcher Emma Penney.

Since I had no recordings of the poets themselves reading their work, with the exception of Madge Herron, the poets’ words came alive in readings by actors Eleanor Methven, Paula McGlinchey, Cathy Belton and Ingrid Craigie.

While I was working on the radio series, Maria Johnston and Conor Linnie were editing a book which also evolved from the Poetry Ireland event. Irish poetesses rediscovered: poetic readings from the 18th to the 20th centurywas published by Cork University Press in 2021 and contains 17 original essays on seventeen extraordinary Irish poets.

For a while, I considered calling my series of three programs, each focused on three poets featured in the book, Missing voicesusing the same title as the event in Poetry Ireland in 2018. But then I came across the poem by Olivia Elder, born in Aghadowey in Northern Ireland in 1735, where she laments all the obstacles that get in her way whenever she wants spend time reading and writing:

Despite all the loftier wishes

I need to do the dishes sometimes.

And Olivia had given me the perfect title for the radio series: Sublime wishes.

Episode 3 of sublime wishes is presented by Claire Cunningham on The lyrical functionSunday April 17 at 6 p.m. on RTÉ lyric fm. This episode features Ellen Taylor, Emily Lawless and Freda Laughton. Listen to more The lyrical function here.


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