Fired! movement seeks to bring Irish women writers back into focus

Fired! is a new “convergence of practising women poets and academics”, responding to the lack of representation of Irish women poets and critics within Irish Literature.

Launched this month, Fired! seeks to highlight the history of women writers and reinstate forgotten Irish women poets into the literary discourse. Key to the movement is their pledge, asking people to sign and commit to supporting gender balance, and to actively withdrawn their support from any future project which does not aim for parity.

We speak with poet, workshop facilitator and youth worker Kathy D’Arcy, one of the founders of the movement, to find out more about the need for Fired! and their hopes moving ahead.

How has the initial reaction been to the Fired! movement? Have you met or anticipate any resistance from particular quarters?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far, and we have close to one hundred signatories to the Pledge, including very well-established poets like Eavan Boland and Jen Benka, the director of the Academy of American Poets.  Apart from one unfortunate young man who tweeted to ask when there would be anthologies of male poets (we reassured him that there were already plenty of those!) there has been nothing but support and relief that this movement exists.  We did wonder whether there would be more resistance, but Fired! and our pledge are part of a wider cultural moment which includes Waking the Feminists and #MeToo, and it seems that women’s voices are now being really listened to and heard.  We can no longer be dismissed or ignored.

Have you had any response from Cambridge University Press regarding the reaction to The Cambridge Companion To Irish Poets?

None.

Apart from signing your pledge, what else can poets, editors, and facilitators of online platforms such as Lagan Online do to help the cause?

Firstly, we would really like to see more festival organisers, editors and publishers signing the pledge. What we’re asking is not difficult – people just have to commit to making good faith attempts to bring gender balance into their publications and events. As we’ve outlined many times, this openness to a wider canon enhances Irish literature for everyone. We would like signatories to make it public that they have signed, to encourage others to add their names to the movement: you can share the news on our twitter account, @FiredIrishPoets. And obviously, make every effort to feature as many women as men in your events, and speak up if you become aware that this isn’t happening at an event or in a publication that you are involved with. Our voices matter.

Why has the role of the woman writer in Irish literature been suppressed for so long?

This is a long, complicated question; it would need at least several books to begin to explain it!

Of course Ireland has had a chequered history when it comes to women. Scholars of postcolonial theory have suggested an environment of ‘hypermasculinity’ where the men in a recently colonised population need to recolonise women in order to affirm their masculinity. De Valera’s constitution states that ‘by her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.’ That’s still in place today, and is a pretty eye-opening demonstration of how our governments sees us. During the creation of the Irish state, the cypher of a helpless woman was used by artists on every side to portray ‘Ireland’ as weak and requiring assistance from male rescuers. The theorist C.L. Innes has posited that this cypher strengthened a cultural perception of Irish women as helpless and needing men to tell them what to do: a new, culturally specific version of the Virgin Mary. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other factors, for example: the general Western perception of poetry as something transcendental and therefore the rightful property of men and not earthbound or immanent women; the limited educational and economic opportunities afforded to women throughout history; women’s relegation to the more private or domestic spheres of life, away from the public arenas where discourses evolve; the fact that these private spheres have not until very recently been considered appropriate material for poetry; women’s inability (to this day) to control their fertility in Ireland, North and South.

To this day, we see evidence that there is an entrenched belief that women poets are not as good as men. It’s as simple as that. Good old sexism, which needs to be interrogated and broken down.

You have an event coming up in Cork in January; is there anything planned at this stage, or what events/happenings would you like to see?

Yes, it’s all planned! This will be the second Fired! reading event, and will take place as part of the Ó Bhéal reading/open mic series upstairs in the Long Valley pub in Cork City from 9pm on Monday January 22nd.

The first Fired! reading took place in the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast, on November 18th, and was a huge success. The aim is to bring people together to read and listen to the work of the forgotten poets, to discuss and learn together: a new kind of hedge school. We plan to have many more events around the country during 2018, so if you’re reading this and would like to host an event please get in touch!

Happy Christmas – sign the pledge at awomanpoetspledge.com!

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