'The country at my shoulder' : gender and belonging in three contemporary women poets
This study considers the work of three women poets writing in English during the period 1970-2000. I argue that the poets, Eavan Boland, Michele Roberts and Jackie Kay are all `hybrid' voices, positioned and positioning themselves on the borders between different cultures and traditions. Locating the poets within a specific social, cultural and intellectual context the study considers the different ways in which the poets negotiate these mixed heritages and how gender interacts with their cultural location to affect the poetic identities they inhabit. My study of Eavan Boland locates her as a post-colonial poet writing out of a very specific historical relationship with Britain. I argue that the effects of this relationship are explored in two ways; the political and psychic legacy of the British colonisation of Ireland but also the ways in which women in Ireland have been colonised by a nationalist poetic tradition. I show how Boland interrogates these different colonisations and drawing on the work of Homi Bhabha I argue that Boland finds her own hybrid space in the Dublin suburbs from where she explores the frictions between a number of conflicting positions. My study of Michele Roberts explores the effects of her dual French and English heritage on her writing. I argue that Roberts' desire to embrace both aspects of her identity manifests itself as a desire to reconcile what western dualistic thinking has split and separated. I consider how Roberts advocates a writing and reading practise which asks us to embrace the stranger within ourselves and so begin to heal the split within individuals and nations. My chapter on Kay explores how she negotiates the cultural specificity of her location as a Scottish writer who identifies as black and how her poetry complicates questions of cultural authority and theories of cultural hybridity. I argue that Kay through a focus on `performance' as both theme and aesthetic subverts simple fixed notions of identity. I conclude that all three poets problematise any simple notion of home and belonging as a fixed and immutable space. Rather they inhabit borderlands, unsettled spaces, where there is a constant interaction and reformulation of identity.