My thesis will seek to situate the poetry of Michael Hartnett within an Ecocritical framework of analysis. In addressing Hartnett’s work from such a perspective I hope to make a fresh contribution to the scholarship of this important Irish poet. Building upon existing work of contemporary literary criticism, I will strive to establish Hartnett’s as a vital voice within Irish ecocriticism. It is my contention that such an analysis is significant if a holistic conception of Irish contemporary poetry within an ecocritical viewpoint is to be achieved.
In constructing my analysis I will first analyse the current critical reception of Hartnett. Essays collected in Remembering Michael Hartnett (Four Courts Press, 2006), edited by John McDonagh and Stephan Newman of Mary Immaculate College, will be a valuable resource in this initial endeavour. Of this collection, “Secular prayers: landscape, language and cultural memory in the poetry of Michael Hartnett, by Eoin Flannery, is of most relevance to the area of ecocentricism.
Subsequent to my analysis of the existing literature on Hartnett, I will proceed to inspect that criticism which has as its focus Irish nature and landscape as seen through the ecocritical gaze. The Christine Cusack edited, Out of the Earth: Ecocritical Readings of Irish Texts (Cork University Press, 2010) will be a constant touchstone and aid in achieving this purpose. The ecocritical analyses collected therein have established the standard to which any ecocritical analysis of Irish literature must aspire. Amongst these, Eamon Wall’s “Wings beating on stone: Richard Murphy’s ecology”, will be central as a comparative analysis to my own. Writing with deft insight into the ecological contexts of Murphy’s poetry, as well as his position within Irish poetry more broadly, Wall builds a convincing thesis which places Murphy at the epicentre of ecocentric Irish poetry. I will seek to critique this assertion of primacy made by Wall, whilst concurrently making links between the poetic projects of Murphy, with that of Hartnett, thus enriching the appreciation of both poets.
Wall’s device of pairing his subject, Murphy, together with a poet writing within the American ecocentric milieu is one which I see great benefit in. Such an international mode of analysis is especially fruitful to any constructive reading of Hartnett’s poetry, the reception of which has been inordinately, and perhaps unfairly, Irish-centred. To this aim I will draw upon Cheryll Glotfelty’s and Harold Fromm’s Ecocriticism Reader (University of Georgia Press, 1996), Roderick Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind (Yale University Press, 2001), Bernard W. Quetchenbach’s Back from the Far Field: American Nature Poetry in the Late Twentieth Century (University Press of Virginia, 2000). Continuing to seek to foreground my analysis within an international context, Jonathan Bate’s The Song of the Earth (Picador, 2000) will add an English perspective, which I intend to develop further by linking Hartnett’s ecopoetics to that of John Clare. The Idea of Landscape and the Sense of Place, 1730-1840: An Approach to the Poetry of John Clare (Cambridge University Press, 1972) by John Barrell is a work which will contribute richly to this aspect of my criticism. Taking the project of contextualization still further I will address the influence of eastern philosophies upon Hartnett’s poetry whilst making reference to Kuno Meyer’s Ancient Irish Poetry (Constable, 1911).
The specific period of Hartnett’s poetic output which I intend to focus on is that period beginning in 1974, when Hartnett left Dublin and returned to live in his native West Limerick, specifically the rural townland of Glendarroch (Glen of the Oak Trees). As arboreal symbolism is a constant motif within Hartnett’s work I intend to build upon the work carried out by Dr Anna Pilz in this area, as seen in her article, “So dark and evilly menacing”: Arboreal Symbolism in the Irish Literary Revival’ (The New Hibernia Review, 2015). The decade in which Hartnett resided in this rural setting is most commonly associated with his period of self-imposed exile from the English language. I contend that the ecocentric direction which his poetry took at this time is of equal political importance. Erin James’s article “Bioregionalism, Postcolonial Literatures, and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road”, which appears in, The Bioregional Imagination (University of Georgia Press, 2012), edited by Tom Lynch, Cheryll Glotfelty, and Karla Armbruster, setting forth as it does the possibility of a reading of bioregionalism through the prism of postcolonial literary analysis, is an exciting reconceptualization of the parameters of all current ecocritical enquiry, not least my own research.
As I have here described, there are clear examples of outstanding research which analyses contemporaries of Hartnett. In seeking to emulate such research I seek to add Michael Hartnett to those poets who are read in an ecocritical context, his exclusion from whose company I believe to be a gap in current criticism in need of reparation.
Due to my aim of contextualizing Hartnett’s work within American and British ecocriticism, as well as the very nature of the area as an internationalized literary analytical model, my use of internet databases will be central in this research.