Fast Enough: Poems and Places Where a Thought Might Grow: Culture, Liminality and the Troubles in Derek Mahon's Lives (1972) and The Snow Party (1975)

  • Simon Haworth

Student thesis: Phd


AbstractFast Enough is a collection of poems that plays on the potential implications of its title when thinking about history, time, place, nationality, religion and culture. These things are always in flux, there are no fixed systems, no solutions can be endorsed. There is a nagging anxiety and sense of being overwhelmed by these forces as the poems negotiate and come into contact with them. Formally the poems are interested in the possibility of the stanza, a controlled but arbitrary use of line and rhyme, the use of enjambment and variations in tone or delivery, from the colloquial to the intellectual. They use both urban and bucolic imagery, interspersing this to disorientate and confuse. The collection aims to unsettle, to propose and reject when thinking about the relationship of poetry to historical and contemporary pressures; the result is an unattached individualism. The poems offer a critique and inform. Distance and detachment are important elements for these poems as they move between England, Ireland, America and Europe. This is both a search for subject matter, and a signal of their interest in peripherality, the margins, the interstices and an angular or askance approach to place. Often a composed outsiderliness can be sensed in the subject matter, or in alienated but open speakers who are strangers in their own country or another, and existentially aware (or alert - alert to the dangers of past, present and future events/selves) observers.The critical element of this thesis, Places Where a Thought Might Grow: Culture, Liminality and the Troubles in Derek Mahon's Lives (1972) and The Snow Party (1975), is a long piece of academically engaged literary criticism that assesses Mahon's second and third collections of poetry. Using a theoretical filter of liminality, the work argues that Mahon strategically or deliberately writes the liminal into his poetry as a form of dissent against the cultural fixity apparent in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. This derives from a profound sense of alienation from his Northern Irish, Protestant/Presbyterian inheritance and a reluctance to assume a role akin to that of a communal spokesperson. To do so the work considers important and specific poems from both collections. These are contextualised around the Troubles, an era when unique and overwhelming political and religious extremes decisively and long lastingly impacted Mahon's poetry. It reads these collections as a two-part project in which Mahon implements liminal, peripheral and interstitial ideas (through the use of place, objects, subject matter and form) to interrogate absolutism and tribalism in the province. The work also argues that Mahon's poems, influenced by existentialism, millenarianism and postcolonialism, are liminal zones where identity and subjectivity can be freely re-conceptualised and the unwieldy, prescriptive influence of such things as nationalism and history broken down. The poetry of some of Mahon's Northern Irish contemporaries (notably Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Paul Muldoon) is considered. The study also proposes that the influence of the writers Samuel Beckett and Louis MacNeice (key literary catalysts in Mahon's divorce from his Northern Irish origins) are simultaneously at work in both collections, creating unresolvable tensions and paradoxes in these poems.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJohn Mcauliffe (Supervisor) & Liam Harte (Supervisor)


  • Derek Mahon
  • Northern Irish Poetry

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