Rosemarie Rowley

[1] Exclusion from the literary canon can be a result of differing literary tastes, rivalry, enmities, temporal restraints, difficult relationships with writers or audience, and political expediency, and in Ireland we have a long tradition of ignoring our writers. The Irish have always prized the written word, from the time it was a culture on the run and needed permanent markers, and they guard literary privilege jealously. And we are famous for our begrudgery. In the past this has caused the self-imposed exile of writers like Joyce and Beckett, or the internal exile of writers like Kavanagh who frequented literary watering holes that were "friendly as an alligator tank"—Cyril Connolly's remark on visiting Dublin. Joyce as a young man, had quickly assessed the situation and chose "silence, exile and cunning." On one occasion he rebukes someone "You are Irish, and therefore you are false to me" [1]).

[2] However, no one growing up in the middle of the last century in Ireland could have expected that the exclusion of some writers would continue, especially in an age and space where censorship seemed to have disappeared, and a much more open and embracing attitude had taken its place. The tendency was for inclusion, not exclusion.

[3] It may be difficult to pinpoint what makes a writer ignored or neglected, a task rendered not easy by the fact that even moderately successful writers in Ireland feel that they do not receive sufficient attention and are marginalised.

[4] When a writer like myself produces a substantial amount of work, and has won international competitions, yet receives no mention in bibliographies of Irish women writers, perhaps it might not be deemed hubristic to try and evaluate the situation.

[5] I grew up at an extraordinary time, and came of age in the sixties, when I published my first efforts. We note that in the l960's, which is now looked back upon as a period of idyllic transformation in life and politics, that the political movements existed side by side with personal libertarian movements—that the West was unique in that both Marx and Freud gained influence through a liberal and open agenda which discussed all ideas and influence. However, this openness and transparency didn't last very long.

[6] In the seventies some key Marxists had hi-jacked the liberal agenda, and through ideology influenced public affairs in Ireland, particularly in relation to questions affecting women.

[7] I give here some of the key experiences which shaped my aesthetic, in many ways different from the main currents of our time. I will touch on ideology later in this essay. Intrinsically suspicious of mass media, I turned down a journalist job, taking a permanent job in the Agricultural Institute, where I was in charge of a whole department. However, having read Rachel Carson's "The Silent Spring" in 1962, I decided to give up this job, and took the route which many an Irish writer has taken before me—the boat across the Irish Sea. My ambition was to write poetry, and as I had been very cloistered by my convent education, I couldn't wait to see the world.

[8] However, having taught school for a while in the industrial heartland of England, and worked as a production assistant for the BBC, I decided to re-immerse myself in Irish culture, confident that the new openness would encourage writing. I wanted to be part of the exciting movements of the sixties for peace and justice, and enrolled at Trinity College. Trinity was a liberal university then, far removed from the strictures and tenets of Roman Catholic dogma. I did see another world there, and my short time abroad had given me an insight into Irish society. Even then, in the mid sixties, change was slow, although it was definitely occurring. We were still very much a church-dominated society and women were not encouraged to be educated or to have careers. At the time when I attended Trinity College in the late sixties, priests were telling my family from the pulpit that I was destined to go to hell. I became estranged from my family. So my personal life was difficult. I was also the victim of a sexual assault at this time, and the man I was engaged to attempted suicide. When I married in 1967 I was automatically barred from most professions that my degree had prepared me for. I intended to be a writer and had not seriously sought success in another profession, nevertheless being barred was catastrophic for me because my husband was not supporting me, economically or otherwise. The marriage bar was to keep married women out of all public professions. I couldn't teach because I had married in a registry office, and 95% of the schools were strictly Catholic.

[9] I therefore had to take all sorts of jobs just to survive. Having tried work in the film industry and in the pop world, and as a freelance genealogist, I emigrated to Luxembourg in 1972 and for many years held down a job in the European Civil Service. Whilst in exile in Luxembourg, I kept up the habit of writing, and accumulated enough work for at least two volumes of poetry.

[10] While at College in the sixties I had published my first poems, which met with instant acclaim. A reviewer, Geoffrey Thurley, who later became a respected literary critic wrote that I was "100% improvement on Christina Rossetti." I was a proto feminist, and a third of the contributors to the college literary magazine, Icarus, were women, although outside the university most writers were male. I had started writing in free verse, and my first publications were little more than transcripts of my experience. I have kept very few poems from that period, but I did keep some formal poems on the sea, which were published later in my second book.

[11] Among my contemporaries in college was Eavan Boland, later, a huge influence in Irish women's writing, and who, in her first collection, New Territory (1967) sought "pattern and form...a figure in which secret things confide" ("The Poets"). It is ironic that in later years our positions were reversed. She became a dazzling exponent of free form, whilst I began to write seriously in form. However, we were barely acquainted at college, and on the first occasion of meeting her, I said I wrote poetry from my experiences, and she was somewhat surprised. I had just discovered the poems of Sylvia Plath, which more than anything else, showed the white heat of the crucible that was women's experience prior to feminism.

[12] In exile, I began to develop differently from my contemporaries in Ireland, who now, in the seventies, experienced what is called the second wave of feminism. Isolated from my peers, but exposed to many different cultures at the same time, as I worked in a European political organization, my own development as a poet took place along different lines. The workforce was overwhelmingly female, and I became very well acquainted with women of many different European countries, and various educational backgrounds—all of whom were highly paid and trying to live in a world where meeting partners of the opposite sex was problematic. Above all, I learned to respect different points of view.

[13] While valuing women's experiences above all else, exile again intensified my emotional spectrum considerably, and to accommodate this, I turned to form in my poetry. Every day I heard nine different languages, even taking a ride in the elevator was an exotic mystery and I would try to work out those languages which were new to my ears. Sound was very important to me. It brought me in touch with my deepest feelings. I had been brought up with music, and rhyming and pattern were natural to me. Although poetry was a vehicle for self expression, it was also the vision of another world, a more complete world where I could see connections that were not always apparent to others. I felt I had a talent to explore this world through the articulation of beautiful sounds, where the audience could be seduced, startled or shocked into a state of awe, contemplation, with emotions of fear and delight that came from knowledge of this special world embodied in sound. This did not come only from the semantic meaning of the words but how their sound corresponded to the complexity of a total reality. I found sound particularly potent in creating a form around some of my very difficult core experiences as a woman. Although I shared my experiences as a woman with other women, the universe as a whole was not a fact of gender to me, but of participation in an aspect of being in which I was not totally defined. Writing poetry helped me to define my belonging to that universe.

[14] I came to understand my experiences through the articulation of sound in a darker, more complex universe than I imagined. Rhyming and pattern sought to bring order to this chaos of being, an order that sought its correspondence in diverse strands in the larger culture, but which also belonged to the oral tradition of Irish as inherited by my parents and myself, in which sound had played a very important role, particularly in the recitation of epics in the early Irish of our ancestors where the sound of the words qualified and repeated at ritual level the experiences of the tribe. This epic poetry survived in the speech patterns, cadences and accents of my parents and wider family in Ireland. They are a feature of the Irish language, Gaelic, and every school child learned Gaelic.

[15] When it came to writing poetry in the English language, in the modern era in which I found myself, I did not anticipate that even in poetry, the freest of all vectors, that there were rules being adopted by the new studies in feminism that would preclude certain kinds of poetry.

[16] I had come across, at school and at home, the work of women poets, from Ireland and England, and so was furnished with female exemplars and had no thought that poetry writing could be seen by some feminists as a male act. Although it is true, in the period about two hundred years before the present, when Irish nationalism was in the ascendant, that women and nation were identified, and became the subject matter of poetry, the act of writing itself was not to me essentially a question of gender. Because of my early contact with women who were writers and authors of their own work, this did not seem to me to be an over-riding consideration for an apprentice woman poet. Now some women were claiming that writing itself was intrinsically sexist, and part of the women's movement was to analyze earlier poetry as being oriented towards a male value system, and something which women now wanted to own, appropriate, and express in their particularly experiential way. They had found the European tradition stultifying, and classed the whole culture as one which had been defined by dead white European males.

[17] Although Ireland had been extremely conservative in relation to women, there were residues in the culture which were extremely pro-women, where they had a strong voice. This would not have been available to women educated, for example, in England, where the young Eavan Boland went to school. However, at the time I was in school in Ireland, the achievements of women poets were clearly visible. Though not numerous, they were outstanding in accomplishment. It was acknowledged that the Brontes were geniuses, for example.

[18] As to the wider popular tradition, the evidence shows that in the 19th century, there was a prolific output in women's writing in Ireland, and in the first half of the 20th century, the popular novelists were women like Annie M. P. Smithson, and Temple Lane. There were women poets in the earlier part of the century, some of whom were friends with Yeats, like Katherine Tynan, and those women whose work has survived like Emily Lawless, Dora Sigerson Shorter and Winifred M. Letts, all of which appeared in the schoolbooks.

[19] However, second wave feminists advanced the idea that no women in history had ever achieved anything worthwhile. In order to galvanise women, they had to adopt a simplistic view to fit all women.

[20] Women had now taken to writing verse, in large numbers, and in some cases there was an element which counted everything that women wrote as being important, even grocery lists. In a way, it was trying to redress the balance and to restore to women what had been lost due to patriarchy. However, despite early modernist successes, including the imagist poet, Hilda Doolittle, by the closing decades of the 20th century free verse had become like chopped-up prose. It was now the lingua franca of the new wave of women writers.

[21] However, as I had discovered a deeply felt and personal need for rhyme and sound, I was atypical. I could empathise greatly with the women's movement and their aims, but not the aesthetics, nor the whole underlying argument. My father had not been a patriarchal tyrant, but had actively encouraged and educated his daughters as well as his sons, (his only objection to Trinity was that it was a Protestant university) at a considerable sacrifice to himself. His sister, my aunt, was a song-writer who had achieved publication and popularity in the United States. So I did not fully identify with women who claimed their fathers had oppressed them, and that men were innately oppressors. I did find this oppression was carried by some of my male peers, and that it was embedded in the culture of the city. However, since I did not experience it while I was growing up I did not feel that the cultural suppression of women was universal, or feel either that my horizons were limited by my gender.

[22] In the heady atmosphere of second wave feminism which took off in the seventies, and its flowering in the eighties, women's writing had become mainstream, but it was forgotten that women had written before, because their experiences and language had become outdated. More than that, the prescription for earlier women did not fit into the new ideological framework. It seemed to be necessary to simplify things in order to win the ascent to power.

[23] Society had changed since the sixties. For example, at that time there was a huge openness in what people were reading, and most people went into a bookshop to learn about different cultures, while nowadays there is a tendency for people to buy and read those books which reflect their attitudes. The explosion of information in our times has brought about a need to seek further evidence for our views and to confirm our prejudices rather than the openness which was so vaunted a few decades ago. At the same time, the output in violence in the new media, and the sheer volume of pornography has meant that people have become stratified in tastes which vary from the banal to the excessively violent, and much of this violence in pornography is exercised against women. There are new genres of escapist literature, such as "chick lit"—however, with few exceptions they do not dwell on these complexities.

[24] Now we value "thinking outside the box" but in western democracies during the Cold War, there was a huge effort to make propaganda for success in capitalist economies. Putting everything in compartments meant that people were less inclined to ask questions, and over-simplifying became the vector through which information was passed to the mass of society. People were fed the information they wanted, but were not given anything to help them make connections. This compartmentalization has led to a great deal of useful specialization, but very often there has arisen a huge gulf between the mass market and the universities. And the universities themselves have encouraged specialization rather than those who wish to follow inter-disciplinary studies, with the result that compartmentalization has fed into specialist markets and resulted in blocking off areas of expertise and knowledge, so the universities themselves also over-categorize and simplify in order to take their share in market publications. Poetry itself has suffered from these exclusions, and exists as a minority discipline, but also within categories, such as "Irish women writers".

[25] I found myself returning to Ireland in the eighties, to a vastly changed world. The long drawn out battle for women's rights was winning victory after victory. I was pleased and excited by this development, and rejoiced that women now had more choices in their work. Although not benefiting directly as these events were too late for me, what I had gained in the meantime was exposure to many European cultures and languages. I had been living in an all-female world in Luxembourg, as the majority of the civil servants were women, women who were doing well financially but for the most part had no partners. This meant I knew intimately the private dreams, ambitions and sufferings of very many women in the workplace, from very different backgrounds and countries. I began to form a very clear and definite idea of the complexities of women, their two- fold role in intellectual pursuits, their common ground in biology. The debate in Ireland was governed by hard line feminists. I had no disagreement with their sexual orientation. However, the emphasis on abortion, and on harshly dealing with men, including boy children (banning them from crèches) means I couldn't support them uncritically—by now I was a mother and raising my son single-handedly.

[26] I published my first book The Broken Pledge in 1985, comparatively late, considering I had begun in the sixties, and received a notice in the literary columns of Ireland's broadsheet quality newspaper. Each poem was the name of an Irish traditional tune. The publisher got a lot of stick about the cover, and the general review was a bit harsh, speaking derogatively about the "pain leaking" from my words.

[27] I felt my second book would do better, which was more formal, but also more experiential and therefore something I could stand over. There was quite a lot of pain in this too, being entitled The Sea of Affliction, (1987) but I had been very influenced by Simone Weil and her theory of affliction. I had tied this sense of pain to women's experiences, and the environment—indeed, it is one of the first examples of what came to be known as eco-feminism. I had been working as a volunteer coordinator in the emerging green movement in Ireland, and felt that the questions affecting women were also showing up in the environment—they were both being treated badly, fed with chemicals, and made to fit the Procrustean bed of scientific empiricism.

[28] Just before my second book came out, in 1987, I had been asked to do reviews by a Sunday newspaper, "The Sunday Tribune" and one of the first books for review was Eavan Boland's The Journey. Whilst admiring the title poem enormously, I took issue with the idea that the form of a poem could be patriarchal. Coming from a musical background, I could not see poetic or musical form being of gender provenance. In my review, I mentioned that the form itself could not be held responsible for the exclusion of any subject matter, in this case, matters of importance to women. I also felt some of the language was inadequate to the situation, for example, the idea that world peace could be gained by domestic and suburban felicities, such as quilt-making. However, the review was marred by the headlining of a sub-editor, unknown to me, who titled the piece "Meretricious Matriarchy". I could understand if people felt offended, but as I hadn't said it, I thought they would read the review for my evaluation of the book. But some who should have known better took the headline to be mine.

[29] Soon after this, my second book The Sea of Affliction came out. The year beforehand, I had been interviewed as a "green woman" in the wake of Chernobyl. I had become aware of green issues since the late sixties, having met campaigners for the environment as far back as 1970, at the time of the first Earth conferences. Now the features editor of the newspaper, who later became the Literary Editor, said she could not interview me in relation to my eco-feminist book, as I had been interviewed as an activist! I was the only woman who had published a book that year in Ireland not to be interviewed. From the newspaper point of view, giving a literary profile to an environmentalist would be giving the green movement credibility, while featuring a poet who looked for responsibility may have seemed prescriptive.

[30] I did get a cursory review of a few lines, by a male writer who was not sympathetic.

[31] This, in effect, is a direct example of the compartmentalization to which I have alluded, and which has bedeviled our culture in the most recent past. In the mass media, this has given us our crisis in the environment, since editorial policy split consumer affairs, literary affairs, and news stories, for example "motoring supplements" sold vast numbers of cars but did not mention pollution, advertising was self regulated by the industry, and kept apart from opinion, and so on, the end result being that people could not easily make a connection between consumerism, which was vaunted as a liberal creed, and the effects of producing huge numbers of artificial, non-biodegradable artifacts in the environment.

[32] When environmental issues were first reported, it was a commonly held assumption that environmentalists were all the lunatic fringe, and tree huggers, while in Europe, legislation was piecemeal, and very specific, meaning an all over strategy was not taken until the actual damaging effects of carbon emissions could be measured by scientists and felt by everyone. Indeed, it wasn't until the Stern report came out in October 2006 that the newspapers and media took the threat of global warming seriously. In the meantime, environmentalists were all loony, poets were without responsibility, feminists wanted us to be like men, and mothers were badly treated in the workplace.

[33] Eliot said that poets were at the height of consciousness, while Shelley said that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world. I often asked myself what Wordsworth have done, and concluded he probably would have gone on a demo at least, and maybe not have retired so early.

[34] What happened in the century of mass communications was that compartmentalization meant that no one could make connections. Ideology has driven the intellectual movements of the last century, and the individual voice is often lost in the oversimplified consensus.

[35] Since ideology has to simplify in order to get its point across, we note it is specifically suited to a mass culture, that the twentieth century was the first modern mass culture arising out of industrialisation and therefore homogeneity, and also out of the possibilities of mass mobilisation through mass communications. Its first job is to legitimise its aims and to conscript on the basis of a "committed" position.

[36] What distinguishes us all in the present age is our longing for belonging, and ideology helps foster in us a sense of belonging. Like belonging to a particular geographical or family group, there are patterns of behaviour that do not entirely suit us in the vision of our shared humanity.

[37] What has happened is that the commodification of culture has led to huge markets with different demographics, which answer in a specific way to different groups of people. Knowledge and information have increased to such an extent that people almost need to compartmentalize and specialize. This means that for the past 40 years, while specialization has increased, there is no overall narrative for the huge and varied society we have become, as postmodernism and multiculturalism means that there is no over-riding story of our age. When I decided to write of rape as a central metaphor for the modern experience of violation of the environment and violation of women, I did so in a form which was aesthetically satisfying to me. However the positivist ideology embraced by the women's movement tends to work against inclusion, and be gender specific, not only in theme, but in treatment.

[38] Ideology tries a one size fits all strategy. If the glass slipper fits, then the work is declared to be important or of artistic merit. But my own exclusion points to even a more serious problem—what about all those real women in jobs, trying to juggle work and motherhood? Is it any wonder they want to escape from the new tyranny into which women have fallen—the tyranny of ideology from the universities, and the tyranny of the market from those who would offer women a sop. Ideology works in certain well defined goals, and as Eagleton points out, its main aim is to legitimize an agenda of closely related beliefs. So it has succeeded in that aim, in the women's movement. But what about the all-over effects of ideology?

[39] The first thing ideology does is to discount the exceptional or interesting exceptions which in fact hold the clues as to why a group is being perceived a certain way, and then, in a rush to justice, ignore historical evidence, and then compound the mistake by denial.

[40] In looking at ideology, we must be aware it tries to simplify in order to get its message across, however, in real life, we must always look at exceptional cases to examine the validity of a rule or belief or idea, and when we quote "the exception proves the rule" we must remember that the old meaning of prove meant actually to test, and not to establish conclusively. If the rule still held after testing, it was a trustworthy rule, and perhaps even tells us more than a generalised sample of opinion based on a prediction can do. In other words, the achievements of exceptional women might not prove that these women were exceptional, but that their circumstances were. It showed that women who were encouraged by both their fathers and mothers went on to achieve those things which were normative for men, and women of genius who surpassed all.

[41] I had in my possession until recently, when I gave it to a woman artist, a book of women painters, published in l905, which shows the work of at least ten women painters, among whom the great Artemesia Gentileschi, who flourished at the time of the Renaissance, in the Italian schools of the l5th until the l7th centuries, so there are times when women have shown early and outstanding genius and it would be better to look at all the factors which allowed them to produce rather than write a general prescription about women.

[42] Women who were considered heirs to their fathers did especially well, this is true of Hypatia, the first woman scientist, of the few great women painters in history, of great 20th century philosophers like Simone Weil and Hannah Arendt.

[43] Questions of literary evaluation are notoriously difficult in an age of ideology, since every aspect of life has to be diagnosed in the "correct way." We have had a huge move towards political correctness, which aims to establish criteria in a new canon—the aim of the politically correct school is to establish an attitude of justice through language and evaluation of language texts. This is a praiseworthy aim since there are indeed certain words which virtually every person would find offensive. However, this spills over to a completely partisan point of view towards aspects of language which includes the prioritisation of a previously suppressed group along with the caucus of opinion which makes up the political agenda for liberating them, or achieving justice for the group.

[44] The emphasis is on gender representation rather than achieved poetry by either sex. When gender sameness becomes mandatory at all levels, especially cultural levels, what is ignored are previous successes involving heterosexual cooperation, for example, the work of Elizabeth Barrett Browning has been downgraded by feminists.

[45] To my mind, ability in certain forms of poetry is nothing to do with gender—there have been great sonneteers like Shakespeare and Keats who are men, and great sonneteers like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Edna St Vincent Millay who are women. Yet a kind of thinking became accepted that the sonnet was a patriarchal form, and by extension, all formality in poetry was suspect and the province of men, again, until someone came along to prove this wasn't true, for example, Marilyn Hacker in the United States in the eighties and with the birth of new formalism.

[46] Wouldn't be more instructive to encourage open debate on whether the "Glanmore Sonnets" of Seamus Heaney were more accomplished and beautiful than any domestic poems written by women, or perhaps, on the other hand, to argue that the abstract juxtapositions of Marianne Moore were actually more evocative and interesting that those of her male American contemporaries—just as the lyrical poetry of Emily Bronte could be advanced as being more eloquent in some respects than the sonnets of Keats? And celebrate especially the work of those who do not conform to ideology, such as Medhbh McGuckian, who does not reflect on the living conditions in Belfast, or Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, who does not write gender-focussed poetry. This approach is important to me because I find the main thrust of poetry is towards the aesthetic, and the purification of the language so that it becomes a supple rather than a blunt instrument. Also at risk of neglect are distinguished achievement by women poets which is not necessarily related to their social conditions or gender.

[47] What is at stake in an age of political correctness is the acceptance of norms which will guarantee the implementation of the political programme. Valuation through an "objective" method, such as class or gender, dismisses the idea of individuality, and therefore the idea of conscience, which is always individual. There is pressure to agree, even when one feels doubt.

[48] Therefore gender sameness, in which equality is portrayed as being identical, becomes the norm. Differences in biology are played down, with the result is the woman enters the workplace ill prepared for an unplanned pregnancy, which is considered to be problematic, when in fact it is just a normal consequences of heterosexual activity. Because of my close contacts with women of all backgrounds, I knew that many are pressurised into abortion, and noted that a significant number had negative effects on their health, while others regretted a decision they could not reverse.

[49] So in advancing gender sameness, women have been unprepared for the realities they face on biological questions, and because the question is not taken up a priori, the workplace is often hostile and dismissive of them.

[50] Because of the effectiveness of simplification, ideology works to galvanise opinion and consolidate the aim of politics. However, if relevant information is suppressed, on the grounds it would detract from the case, what it actually does is to increase the problems later on. (In Ireland, the huge increase in the suicide rate for young men, and the ten-fold increase in suicide attempts by young women, might bear out this point).

[51] I would hope that exclusion and neglect is much more than the poet's anguished perception that she or he is not getting the critical attention they deserve. For me, every opinion is valuable and helps build the whole picture, but exclusion means that certain contributions can be lost. My poetic output is not included in the general assessment known as modern poetry, or more specifically, Irish women's poetry. Therefore, if scholars and general readers come across no reference to me or my work in bibliographies of Irish women's writing, in review columns, or general assessments, it is because my work is not included at source. It is as if it doesn't exist.

[52] The absence of a public profile or academic discussion means that the work is not included in anthologies, or even in school books where readers are at a formative stage and where a taste for poetry can develop. Work included on the syllabus of universities and school has enormous potential for influence. However people compiling syllabi for courses, especially for schools, would have no idea of a poet's work, generally speaking, unless it was the subject of regular review in the national newspapers, or if more specialist views were concerned, in the bibliographies emanating from universities in regard to Irish writing.

[53] In an age which has seen a very welcome interest in women's writing since the second wave of feminism in the 1970s, it may be helpful to discover why some women are not included under the rubric of Irish women writers, or women writers, or even in the larger general category of poets and writers. The effects of exclusion are circular, in that each time the topic of poetry comes up, the writer or editor has to go to the media, or to scholarly journals, and if one's work is not taken up initially, the omission is compounded. Very often writers or poets are asked for contributions, but if the work is not included at the initial source, they cannot have heard of it, and so the invitation is not made. The newspapers compound this error because their reports depend so much on what is being presented at the cultural level in universities. However, saying that, "The Irish Times" had published a handful of my poems before I fell foul of literary politics.

[54] When the first anthology of contemporary Irishwomen's poetry was published in 1990, (Wildish Things) my name was not among the contributors. I was the only woman to have published three books and been excluded. I had by then published Flight into Reality my long poem in terza rima (1989)—some sections were published in the 90s in the UK by Kathleen Raine. Not to be included in a collection of Irish women's poetry was quite a serious development, because the editor, Ailbhe Smyth, was an academic in University College Dublin, and she became a key player in women's studies worldwide. Primarily an abortion campaigner, though not a poet herself, she acted as gate-keeper in the accumulating body of women's writing, especially poetry, and this meant, when she was approached by international scholars for names and work of Irish women writers, she had total control over who was included and who was excluded. Because of this initial exclusion, at face value based on a difference of opinion as to form in poetry, I have been excluded from any kind of mention in the international bibliographies of women's writing, including the influential Bloomsbury Dictionary of Women Writers, the compendium published during the nineties, Ireland's Women, and other anthologies of women's writing. I am included however, in Robert Hogan's Dictionary of Irish Writers and in Unveiling Treasures, edited by Anne Weekes Owens.

[55] I felt Ailbhe Smyth had taken exception to me because I did not appear uncritically supportive of women's poetry, in fact, the opposite was true, I had wanted women's work to be included in the broader canon of world achievement, and not in some sub-section of special pleading or interest. However, women-identified women, who empathize perhaps with the situation of their oppressed mothers, feel it as a personal criticism when someone questions any aspect of a woman's writing work. The women's movement would not tolerate dissent in any form. They had this in common with communist run countries, but instead of being sent to Siberia you were sent to Coventry.

[56] Later, when I asked Eavan Boland about the omission, she retorted "you did not support us." I was surprised and disappointed that a group ethos had been applied. I had expected this from Marxists, but not from feminists, which bears out my point that the movement was Marxist driven.

[57] I delivered all my work later to the Women's Studies Departments of University College, and Trinity College, but I do not feature in any way on their programmes or in their publications of bibliographies or evaluations. Publishers cannot consider my work since it is unlikely there will be any returns on publishing me. The last major anthology of Irish women's writing, The Field Day Anthology Vols IV and V includes every woman in Ireland who has put pen to paper, even in letter form, however, it does not include my name or any reference to my work. The editor of the poetry section, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, who in fact had congratulated me in person on the bravery of my review, now excised my name because, as she explained to me when I queried the omission, formal poetry was like wearing corsets!

[58] However, I am included in a general round-up of women's poets which was issued just before the Millennium in the company of many younger women poets whose work so far has not been included in bibliographies or studies generally. Interestingly, my contribution consists of translations of the anonymous women bards of Connaught, some of whose names did not survive history.

[59] In Ireland, the advance of learning, and literary output and evaluation, has taken place with public events against a backdrop of violence in the North. These events were a huge disappointment to those like me who had hoped for peaceful solutions arising out of sixties activism and a broad agenda. Instead we now look back on the last thirty or more years as a particularly dark era of terrorist politics, made doubly so by the failure of the sixties' optimism which tried to take on board larger questions than it could answer in so short a space of time. Media sensationalism from some tabloids meant the agenda became polarized very early on with the middle ground being left out most of the time. Many writers who dealt with problems event by event, and day by day, were very successful, while those who had long term aims were both perplexed and worried. Not least was the way poetry had developed, the events in Northern Ireland brought into sharp focus the differences in the warring camps, and poetry became more regional for a time, than international.

[60] In my case, being excluded at source meant I could not reach a wider, international audience. Due to having lived abroad and seen the situation as regards women in European countries, I felt that some of the problems were not being addressed by feminists in Ireland. The emphasis on equality, and equal pay for equal work, ignored the crucial biological dilemma for women who now contemplated careers. The new women journalists and academics who promoted feminism did from a phalanx of views that ignored women's dual nature, so equality in treatment was interpreted as identical treatment and women actually entered the workforce as surrogate men. The extra money coming into the economy from women's wages, instead of giving them space for creativity, was used by financiers as an opportunity to increase house prices and restrict mortgages to two-income families. Many women, enjoying the first freedoms of work, now were tied irrevocably into an economic situation where their earnings went to the banks, instead of giving them time out for their own choices. Many of them regretted rush decisions, such as a hasty abortion, while others faced a lifetime of single parenthood and full time work. With hindsight, it was important to secure biological rights for women on their entry into the workforce. This didn't happen.

[61] This support for mothers is now, thirty years later, taking place in Germany as Chancellor Angela Merkel has now, in 2007, given all mothers 1,500 Euro per month for each child until the child is a year and a half old. This, for me, is ideally suited to women, who must take on both roles of worker and mother, and whose children will benefit from having the close input they need in their very early, very formative years. But this support was a long time coming, and was obscured by feminist ideological rhetoric.

[62] The tendency to exclude work at source means that it does not reach a great number of readers. If we do not include all points of view, we are in fact narrowing the choices and agenda for women now and in the future. Being excluded for portraying a more complex reality than admitted by current feminist thinking, i.e. advocating gender sameness, does lead on to a situation where gender sameness becomes accepted as the norm and a young woman might therefore view her biological condition as aberrant when in fact it is normative of all women. I do think somehow the point has to be made, in order that younger women may be helped to make the decision right for them. I do respect others' points of view, and would also expect it to be reciprocal, which I am saying is not always the case. We do not know how much other women's writing is excluded or marginalized, it may be quite a lot.

[63] Recently there has been a television programme on Sheila Wingfield, probably the most noted writer also excluded from the Field Day anthology, and she has been the subject of a biography by Penny Perrick which is a bestseller as I write. The grounds for her exclusion are unknown to me, but she did have a classical bias in her poetry. So exclusion now might mean your work reaches more readers at a later date.

[64] Now, with the world wide web, there is an opportunity for neglected or excluded writers to reach a new audience. If I may, I will mention two recent sites which feature my poetry, and are now within reach of a wider audience than one which falls into past categorisation. "Irish Literary Revival" does just that, publishing my second collection under a Creative Commons agreement, at «http://www.irishliteraryrevival.com/rosemarierowley.html». My poetry recently has been featured on a Canadian website, «http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poet/521.html». A visitor to the site remarked I had just been part of the Irish tradition which had exiled its great writers and intelligentsia! This was flattering, but the truth might be more complex as I hope I have shown in this essay.

—Rosemarie Rowley


[1] MS Cornell, 29 August, 1904, 60 Shelbourne Road, Letters, vol. II, pp. 49-50 , New York, Ellman, 1966.