My doctoral project comprises both critical component creative components. The creative component of my thesis, titled Hopewell Place, is a collection of poems taking as its raw material the findings of a short research venture – utilising resources such as the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and newspaper archives – which treks the socio-cultural changes to one square mile of inner-city Belfast from the 1830s (when the land, mainly greenfield, was used mainly in the manufacture of brick) until the present day. Since the first terrace went up in the Old Lodge district – colloquially monikered ‘the Hammer’ – in the early nineteenth century, this area has been blighted by poverty, violence and paramilitarism owing to administrative corruption and neglect. These original terraces – built to house millworkers – remained until the early-70s, when a ‘slum clearance’, followed by a poorly planned redevelopment scheme, decimated the local community. The current council estate is currently undergoing redevelopment.
The critical component of my project, ‘Mapping the “Imaginative Estate” of Northern Irish Poetry: Aesthetics, Politics and Taboo’, comprises an investigation into the relationship between contemporary Northern poetry, its adjunct criticism, and wider the political concerns of these milieus: how ‘taste’ has more to it than the subjective proclivities of a given reader. The title of the thesis cites a term used by Michael Longley in 1971, where he extoled the benefits of the ‘local coterie’ and outlines his own Northern canon (M. Longley, 1971: 95).
My thesis is structured in three sections, each including two chapters. Section I addresses the critic’s role in Northern literary canon formation. Chapter 1 will therefore comprise a meditation on a putative schematic of ‘generations’, ‘coteries’ and ‘revivals’. This is followed up by Chapter 2, where the work of critically disregarded Belfast poet, and modernist pioneer, Joseph Campbell (1879–1944) is recontextualised and cross-analysed alongside the work of Ciaran Carson (1948–) in order to uncover hitherto undocumented aesthetic affinities between their poetics.
Section II of the thesis involves an investigation into the uses of, and attitudes towards, nonstandard English in Northern poetry. Thus Chapter 3 will look at the history of dialect usage in the north, from the Ulster Weaver Poets through to the present day. Whereas in Scotland and northern England, writing in the vernacular is expected, contemporary Irish writers have largely avoided dialect; in poetry this is even more the case regarding Belfast urban English. Heaney and Muldoon include and interrogate dialect, incorporating rural vocabulary along with some play with tense and syntax. In terms of what we might call canonical Belfast poetry however, comprehensive interpolations of dialect – using nonstandard orthography, lexis and grammar – are a rarity. Chapter 3 will therefore examine the extent to which various political concerns have influenced this verse aesthetic in terms of dialect, that is, the extent to which a dearth of explicit renderings of nonstandard dialect in Northern poetry is symptomatic of a latent classism; an anti-regionalism stemming from a preoccupation with the Northern Irish constitutional question; and/or historically, the inheritance of a politically reticent New Critical aesthetic via F. R. Leavis.
With regard to the ‘current generation’, only Alan Gillis’s poetic broadly includes nonstandard English. Chapter 4 of the thesis will argue that Gillis’s use of dialect is one facet of an anti-aesthetic which speaks to his Northern poetic forebears. Incorporating theory from Bakhtin and Bourdieu, Chapter 4 will present the findings of an enquiry into the struggles ‘wage[d] on the terrain of [poetic] language’ (Thompson, 1991:59).
The third and final section of the thesis will locate the major aesthetic shifts in Northern poetry since 1900. Attempting to chart the morphology of the ‘tradition’, Chapter 5 will outline the major changes in Northern poetic style. The final chapter in the thesis will then analyse ground-breaking works which act as signposts for politico-aesthetic shifts, such as Heaney’s North (1975) and Leontia Flynn’s These Days (2004).
The creative and critical components of the project will, when complete, intersect. As the critical study deals with the ideological underpinnings of literary historiography, periodisation and cannon formation, so Hopewell Place will look at the dearth of (intellectual and fiscal) investment in the ‘Hammer’ district; the central theme here, with regard to both the literary and the social (the Cultural and the cultural) is exposure – what Jacques Rancière calls le partage du sensible, that is, the concept of ‘what is visible and audible within a particular aesthetico-political regime’ (Rockhill, 20014: 1). The critical component involves an investigation into the uses of, and attitudes towards, nonstandard English in Northern Irish poetry; Hopewell Place will employ the findings of formal experimentation in syntax, grammar and diction with a view to producing an orthography conducive to Belfast urban English. Where the critical study will seek to locate the major aesthetic shifts in Northern poetry, the creative component will open a conversion with, and subvert the received values of, the Northern literary canon – as a means to contribute to and scrutinise this ‘tradition’.
QUB, ENG3064: ‘Representing the Working Class’ (October – November 2017).
QUB, ENG3064: ‘Representing the Working Class’ (October – December 2016).
QUB, ENG3064: ‘Introduction to Creative Writing’ (January 2018 – present)
- Creative Writing
- Composition of historical and biographical poetry; ekphrastic poetry, found-ekphrastic poetry (maps, records et cetera.); autobiographical poetry; and non-standard dialect poetry.
- Experimentation in form (Belfast English dialect in poetry, prose and drama).
- Twentieth and early twenty-first-century Irish and British poetry, prose and drama.
- Politico-historical and linguistic analysis of contemporary Irish poetry (Alan Gillis, Leontia Flynn, Martin Mooney, Tom Paulin, Ciaran Carson, Seamus Heaney).
- Application of literary theory to analyses of ‘Troubles’ drama (Stewart Parker, Sam Thompson et al.) and poetry.
- Politico-historical analysis of contemporary Northern Irish prose (Glenn Patterson, Robert McLiam Wilson et al.).
- Phonological, phonetic and acoustic analysis of speech / representations of speech.
- Application of phonetic and intonational models of graphic representation.
- Categorisation of Belfast English speech (intonational and segmental).
- Sociolinguistic cross analysis of Hiberno-English and Southern British English intonation patterns.
- Orthographic / syntactic analysis.
- Application and development of literary and cultural theory.
- Analysis of class, gender, postcolonial and ethno-national/religious contexts in Irish literature (Eagleton, Said, Deane et al.).
- Canon formation; aesthetics in poetry; cultural capital (Bourdieu); philosophy of language (Bakhtin).
Recipient of the following academic awards:
- Esther Ballantine Prize 2015 (for best final year English student).
- Henry Hutchinson Stewart Literary Scholarship 2015 (for best student enrolling in postgraduate study).
- School of English Mature Student Prize 2015 (for mature student attaining the highest marks at undergraduate level).
Education & Qualifications
Bachelor of Arts, Queen’s University Belfast, 2012 – 2015: First class honours (78%) in English with Creative Writing.
Master of Arts, Queen’s University Belfast, 2015 – 2016: Distinction (83%) in Poetry – Creativity and Criticism.
French at Intermediate Level, Queen’s University Belfast, 2014: Pass at Level 2.
Electrician Installation Engineer / Contracts Assistant, Vaughan Engineering Services (2004 – 2011).
What Snuck about Hopewell and Other Places and Outside the ‘imaginative estate’: Canon, Dialect and Aesthetics in Northern Irish PoetryAuthor: McKendry, S., Jul 2020
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis › Doctor of Philosophy