Edna Longley’s second collection of essays for Bloodaxe investigates the links between Irish literature (especially contemporary poetry), Irish culture and Irish politics. The Living Stream takes its title from Yeats’s poem ‘Easter 1916’: ‘Hearts with one purpose alone / Through summer and winter seem / Enchanted to a stone / To trouble the living stream…’
By questioning the ﬁxed purposes of both nationalism and unionism, literature has helped to make living streams ﬂow in Ireland. Edna Longley shows in particular where recent Northern Irish writing, together with the critical debates it has occasioned, ﬁts into this process of change.
In her introduction, which includes a hard-hitting critique of The Field Day Anthology, Edna Longley argues that it’s time for Irish literary criticism to adopt the “revisionist” approach that characterises the writing of Irish history, which would mean paying more attention to religious factors, to literary relations with Britain, and to the cultural diversity that underlies creative diversity. These ideas inform her consideration of such topics as: the historical imaginations of Northern Irish poets; Belfast in literature; Protestant writers after Irish Independence; the Thirties generation of Northern Irish writers; the inﬂuence of Louis MacNeice; aesthetic differences between poetry from the North and from the Republic. The book also contains a reﬂection on the 75th anniversary of the Easter Rising, and Edna Longley’s controversial pamphlet From Cathleen to Anorexia: The Breakdown of Irelands.
‘Unlike many books on modern poetry, this one has a powerful, disruptive case to make and a genuine raison d’être… a ﬁercely unrelenting and implacable critical intelligence at work.’ – Neil Corcoran, TLS
‘Combative, rigorously argued, passionate essays aimed at saving poetry from the politicians.’ – John Banville, Sunday Independent