Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Ed Madden


As two prominent figures of Northern Irish poetry, Medbh McGuckian and Paul Muldoon are often discussed as being "difficult" and "oblique." However, I argue that this categorization of their poetry is too simplistic and overlooks the dissimilarities in their writing process and view of language, and ultimately, in their poetry itself. By going back to the fundamentals of their works, I claim that the basis for this dissimilarity is, in fact, a differing view of the founding blocks of poetic language. McGuckian sees syntax as being the important factor while Muldoon focuses on the individual lexical meaning of words. These two differences in the basis of their language also have implications for the themes of their poetry. McGuckian's view of syntax as unstable and embroidered causes her view of the relationship between subject and object to be interesting and varied, and this relationship plays itself out through McGuckian's poetic comparisons to her own body, the creation of a new, Irigarian feminine language, and to the reversible and collapsible connection between writer and reader. For Muldoon, this focus on syntax is replaced by an attention to the individual words, and this results in a view of these words as the bridges of language; they connect and unify meaning. This connecting and unifying causes Muldoon to concentrate on the type of themes that often require a connection: translation, history, and repetition. All three of these themes are about bridging the divide, either between languages, histories, or poems themselves.

Such differences in their poetic language and themes offers the rationale for more in-depth study into an individual poet's writing process and poetic output, which I argue needs to be done in order to move away from simplistically categorizing a writer's body of work simply based off of one small feature. Ultimately, this starts a dialogue for the way we as critics and readers study and write about poetry.