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This article is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

Birds and their Masters Medbh McGuckian
When Eavan Boland’s first volume, New Territory, appeared in 1967, I was buried up to my A-levels in Wordsworth. My desire to be a nineteenth-century English poet was too sexual to dream that an Irishwoman young enough to have been my school prefect was at that moment publishing, in ‘The Winning of Etain’, as sumptuous and learn-offable-by-heart a sublimation for my palate as The Eve of St Agnes. I was desperately aware that an Ulster Catholic was miraculously, with his Death of a Naturalist, recharging the poetic imagination of the colony as well as the cultural centres. Suddenly there were poetry readings advertised in the local press and, armed with my copy of Death, I remember a crisp walk in the snow, from our house on the upper Antrim Road, down to my first one, in St Malachy’s Old Boys’ Club on the Crumlin, a symbolically apt setting. My coat was lincoln green, military style, also aptly enough, with epaulettes and braided buttons; but my walk was virginal and soldierless, and perfectly safe then, before the Troubles. I was the only woman in the room, apart from an elderly lady in furs. I knew nobody, spoke to no one, understood not a word. There was as always a long table with water from which two older men and a pristine youth with Grecian curls, whose names went over my head, performed their baffling rite. Maybe one of them wondered what my buttons were doing there, looking for death, there.

My next inauguration was when Cecil Day-Lewis (no Daniel) gave a reading at the University, ...


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