In this paper, I seek to contribute to the resurrection from critical obscurity of an overlooked tradition in contemporary Irish poetry: namely, that of small-press poetic experimentalism. Taking as a case study the Dublin-based New Writers’ Press (NWP, established 1967), I will interrogate the absence of virtually any mention of small Irish experimental presses in critical narratives of late modernist poetry of the British Isles in the 1960s and 1970s. By using an array of insights gleaned from the many letters, typescripts and other ephemera in the NWP archive housed at the National Library of Ireland, such absences in scholarship are explored in the context of what the press’ founding editors faced in navigating the small Irish poetry market of the mid-twentieth century. Through this archival lens, the reasons why a cohesive avant-garde network of British and
Irish poetic experimentalists never materialised are analysed, and an argument for how Irish poetic experiments of the last half century have not received anywhere near the same degree of critical attention as those of their British counterparts will emerge. In the first half of this paper, I focus on the Irish commercial poetry scene in the 1950s and 1960s, ultimately illustrating how narrow and competitive it was in comparison to the British market, as well as the peculiar individual context of an Irish campus magazine, Trinity College’s Icarus
(1950-). This will in turn suggest that the absence of presses such as NWP from critical accounts of late modernist poetic experimentalism may well be due to editorial decisions made by those Irish presses themselves. In the second half of this paper, I foreground some important archival evidence to review a number of instances in NWP’s history in which it comes close to forging alliances with presses within the more cohesive British experimental scene, though it never manages to do so. Drawing on this evidence, I present an archival basis for counterarguments to the possible conclusion that the responsibility for the general absence of Irish presses from narratives of small-press experimentalism lies with those Irish presses themselves.
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