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This article is taken from PN Review 250, Volume 46 Number 2, November - December 2019.

Put Off That Mask
Trauma, Persona and Authenticity in Denise Riley’s ‘A Part Song’
Sinéad Morrissey
This is the text of the 2018 StAnza Lecture

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of lyric runs as follows:
Of or pertaining to the lyre; adapted to the lyre, meant to be sung; pertaining to or characteristic of song. Now used as the name for short poems (whether or not intended to be sung), usually divided into stanzas or strophes, and directly expressing the poet’s own thoughts and sentiments.

It is this latter contention that the lyric, via an authentic and honest ‘I’-voice speaker, directly expresses the poet’s own thoughts and sentiments which I’d like to investigate further. And I’d like to do so with a double caveat. First, that the subject I’ve chosen is both so broad and so fundamental to the art of poetry that it is impossible to speak definitely on this subject. Second, that I myself am in a conflicted relationship, not with an ‘I’-voice in poetry per se, but with an ‘I’-voice in poetry which ‘directly [expresses my] own thoughts and sentiments’, with the notion of what might be termed a transparent ‘I’. To be in a conflicted relationship with a transparent ‘I’ is not to be necessarily – or not always – antagonistic to it. It is to be alert, on the one hand, to the aesthetic and ethical pitfalls of the use of a transparent ‘I’ in poetry, and, on the other, to be nevertheless aware, indeed at times in awe of, its captivating force.

In her temporary role as editor of Poetry Ireland Review, ...

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