Gail McConnell
    Phone: +44 (0)28 9097 1073

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    Research Interests

    I joined Queen's in January 2013 and I publish both poetry and criticism. My research interests are in modern Irish and British poetry. My monograph explores the relationship between theology and form in Northern Irish poetry, with attention to the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Derek Mahon. Recently, I have published articles on Northern Irish poetry after the peace process in boundary 2; and on Seamus Heaney, photography and manuscript drafts of 'Strange Fruit' in Irish University Review. More broadly, I'm interested in the politics of aesthetic form, and in the relationship between violence, artistic practice and literary reception. I contributed to The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry and review poetry and criticism for a number of journals.

    My debut poetry pamphlet is Fourteen (London: Green Bottle Press, 2018). It launched in London in September 2018 and in Belfast in October. The pamphlet was developed with support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland under the Support for the Individual Artist Programme.

    'Gail McConnell's poems about creatures – worm, narwhal, octopus, curlew – remind us, in their metamorphic strategies, that we are all creatures of one kind or another, who can embody and transform ourselves and each other through language. As the great French poet Francis Ponge has it in his ‘Mollusc’, ‘The least cell of our body clings as tightly to language, as language has us in its grip.’ There are echoes of Ponge in Gail McConnell, and of Marianne Moore, but she is very much her own person in her emotional range. Poems that deal with issues of the utmost gravity – matters of life and death – nevertheless display a rueful lightness of touch. Fourteen is a seriously entertaining sequence of things.’ CIARAN CARSON

    'There is a poetry which makes other poetry look and sound like it’s been recorded on C90 cassette tapes. Gail McConnell’s pamphlet Fourteen (Green Bottle Press £6) – impressive, dense, playful, formally nimble – marks out one such completely new register in Irish poetry.' Damian Smyth, Poet and Head of Literature, Arts Council Northern Ireland

    My second pamphlet, Fothermather, will be publshed by Ink Sweat & Tears in autumn 2019 and launches at Café Writers in Norwich on 11th November. The book explores the interaction of parenthood and queerness and is the result of winning the Ink, Sweat and Tears Pamphlet Competition in 2017.

    My long poem, 'Type Face', was published in Blackbox Manifold in December 2016 and concerns my experience of reading a Historical Enquiries Team report about my father's murder. I am currently working on a book featuring 'Type Face' and have received an award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to support this project, under the Artist Career Enhancement Scheme. I have published poems in Poetry Review, PN Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Manchester Reviewpast simple Eborakon and The Tangerine and have poems forthcoming in Stand. 

    With Co-Investigators Dr Jo Scott (University of the West of Scotland) and Dr Deborah Maxwell (University of York), I was Principal Investigator for 'Listening to Voices: Creative Disruptions with the Hearing Voices Network' funded by the AHRC under the Connected Communities Programme (March 2015 - March 2016). The project brought together voice-hearing networks, independent artists and academics to develop resources for creative listening practice, to analyse notions of ‘voice’ and to foreground what is challenging and meaningful about the collaborative process and the politics of authority in textual production.

    I am a co-editor of The Irish Review with Clare O'Halloran and Colin Graham. The journal has provided a forum for critical and creative writing since 1986. With an editorial policy that is pluralist and interdisciplinary we publish articles on the arts, society, philosophy, history, politics, the environment and science. Our aim is to serve a general rather than a specialist readership.

    I have given poetry readings at Corrymeela, Just for One Day, The Redline Festival, the Monasterevin Hopkins Society Annual Festival, the University of York and the University of Reading. Beyond the academy, I have given and hosted talks at Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Mountains to Sea/ Poetry Now, Happy Days International Beckett Festival, Dublin Writers Festival, Aspects Festival, and on the Seamus Heaney: Five Fables TV series and app.

    Research Statement

    My monograph, Northern Irish Poetry and Theology, was published by Palgrave in 2014. The book examines how theology shapes the status and constitution of subjectivity, language, and poetic form in the work of Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Derek Mahon, and critiques contemporary debates about poetic negotiations with religion and politics in Ireland. It draws on early modern scholarship to theorise the relationship of literature and theology, and traces continuities and parallels between early modern religious culture and contemporary Northern Irish culture. While Northern Irish literature has traditionally been examined through a sociology of religion, this study proposes a theology of the text. 


    'A central element missing from a great deal of criticism has been what is only inadequately expressed by the term “religion”—the nature and degree, that is, of religious belief, thought, assumption, and cultural conditioning in the practice of poetry by Heaney and other Northern Irish poets. For some critics from outside Ireland and Britain, this is simply too difficult, and involves mastering a largely unknown language of specifically Northern Irish cultural assumptions, inheritance, nods and winks; and for some critics closer to the ground, it remains too problematic, and too fraught with danger, to be approached. In her important book, Northern Irish Poetry and Theology, Gail McConnell goes a good way toward correcting this, and the insistence which her title contains on “Theology” as the key term needed to understand “religion” in Northern Ireland is a recognition that what is at stake here is as much a matter of specifics as of generalities. The quality of McConnell’s work, which is often outstanding, isn’t necessarily any index of its likely success, for critical norms are not always in practice themselves susceptible to criticism; but that quality is both noteworthy and original, and deserves to be taken into account in the future, whenever (as is surely inevitable) a further critical account of Northern Irish poetry is taken.'

    'McConnell’s… analysis of Seamus Heaney’s much-read early poem, “Blackberry Picking,” is a bravura piece of close reading, bringing to the surface (or rather, showing how it is already there on the surface) Heaney’s drive toward a poetics of sacramentalism and Real Presence (all of this read brilliantly alongside his confessed debts to Hopkins). McConnell applies this degree of clarity to many other poems, by no means all of them the expected ones, in order to bring into focus Heaney’s reliance on, and also his uncertainty about, Catholic theology in relation to lyric form. More than any other critic, McConnell makes Heaney’s Catholic reflexes on the level of diction, metaphor, structure, and symbolism fully visible; at the same time, she shows how those very reflexes trouble the poet, and produce a degree of counter-pressure that is itself just as central to his achievement.'

    'McConnell is especially good on the ways in which both Longley and Mahon receive and generate ideas of poetic form. Here, her own circumspect understanding of the ways in which “form” has been a critical ping-pong ball in Northern Irish literary discussion pays superb dividends.'

    'McConnell does not engage in some reductive, “this means that” approach to lyric expression and theological conditioning—her readings are telling, detailed, and hugely sensitive ones—but she does enough, I think, to justify her initial claim for “theology’s formative role in poetry’s production” (26). This being so, there is a lot for critics to ponder. I hope they will; but it should be said that for many, this will mean harder mental work than that to which they are accustomed.'

    'A fine and significant study.’

    Professor Peter McDonald, breac


    ‘Gail McConnell is an insightful and incisive writer. Northern Irish Poetry and Theology… is striking in its care and attention to detail. The close readings of each poet’s work are the sites of deep insights and persuasive questioning.’

    ‘McConnell sets her close readings of the poets’ works within a clear and concise context of contemporary criticism, historical analysis, and early modern religious history, drawing parallels with contemporary Northern Irish culture.’

     ‘a compelling analysis’

    Northern Irish Poetry and Theology is an important and challenging document within contemporary criticism and… clearly situates Gail McConnell as a key figure within upcoming Northern Irish criticism.’

     Dr. Kirsten Kearney, Literature and Theology


    ‘Gail McConnell is adept in her uses of the theology of the text.’

    ‘McConnell [stresses] critical hermeneutics… she ably characterises the differences between the three poets in question.’

    ‘an admirable analysis… rich hermeneutical drive’

    ‘the focus of Mahon through the lens of Calvinist theology enlarges our understanding’

    Professor Jefferson Holdridge, Irish Studies Review


    ‘A significant contribution to the field, deepening our understanding of the theological issues at stake in modern Irish and Northern Irish poetry.’

    Dr. Jack Quin, Irish University Review



    I teach across a range of undergraduate modules. I lecture and teach at stage one on 'English in Transition', 'Sounds of the City' and 'English in Context: An Introduction to Contemporary Fiction' and, at stage two, on 'An Introduction to Critical and Cultural Theory', 'Literature and Society, 1850-1930' and 'Irish Writing'. I currently convene the third year module 'Contemporary Literature: Poetry and Precariousness in the Twenty-First Century'.

    I am convenor of the MA in Poetry: Creativity and Criticism, and I convene and teach on a range of postgraduate modules: 'Reading and Writing Poetry', 'Structure and Serendipity', 'The Poetry Collection' and 'Irish Poetry from W.B. Yeats to the Present Day'. I also teach on the MA in Irish Studies and as part of the Irish Studies Summer School.

    Current PhD supervision

    Jamie Anderson, 'Things in Northern Irish Poetry: From Mahon to Morrissey'. AHRC-funded.

    Dawn Watson, 'Breaking with Tradition: The Power of the Prose Poem in the Changing Landscape of Contemporary Poetry'. (With Dr Leontia Flynn) AHRC-funded.

    Patrick Macfarlane, 'Labour in Modern Irish Poetry'. AHRC-funded.

    Tara McEvoy, 'The Poetry of 1970s Northern Ireland and the Politics of Reception'. (With Professor Fran Brearton) AHRC-funded.

    Completed Theses

    Timothy Carson, '"Perpetual Benedictions": Wordsworth and the Bible'. (With Dr Daniel Roberts) Completed June 2017.

    Stephen Sexton, Creative thesis: If All the World and Love Were Young; Critical Thesis: “A Body That is Made into A Sign”: Elegy, Translation and Ekphrasis in Anne Carson’s Nox (With Professor Sinéad Morrissey). Completed May 2017.

    Charlene Small, 'The Father Figure in Contemporary Irish Poetry’. (With Professor Fran Brearton) Completed March 2015.

    Alice Lyons, 'The Breadbasket of Europe: new poems and moving images; Perpetual Speech: Hollis Frampton's Gloria! as Lyric Poem’. (With Professor Ciaran Carson and Dr Colin Graham) Completed May 2014.


    Willingness to take PhD students


    PhD projects

    I am open to PhD applications in the fields of:
    - Contemporary Poetry
    - Modern Irish and British poetry
    - Poetics
    I supervise students undertaking both critical and creative projects in poetry.

    Frequent Journals

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    Contribution to conference papers, events and activities

    ID: 2506285