My Reflective Blog Essay

As I began the MA in American Literature and Film last September, I learned that it was a requirement to create a blog. I had never blogged before, so I was nervous at the prospect of creating a blog of my academic writings. I also found that blogging could be an excellent way to improve my writing style.  As the year is drawing to a close this is blog is going to reflect on what I wrote throughout the year. I didn’t write quite as many blogs as I first hoped but I believe I covered topics that relevant to my MA.  The first blog I published was a review of Ron Howard’s film Rush, and is as follows:

“Everyone’s driven by something, whether it is the desire for perfection or the life of a maverick playboy. Ron Howard depicts this drive in his excellently portrayed biography of Niki Lauda and James Hunt in Rush.

Rush tells the story of two Formula One drivers competing in the 1970′s and peaking in the 1976 season. The contrast between these equally skilled drivers is what makes their rivalry so interesting and the chemistry between Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth show us Lauda’s and Hunt’s passion to win. The duel between the two characters is only half the tale of Rush as a film with so much action it has to be judged on how it pulls off the excitement of Formula One races. This is where Rush succeeds in every aspect from the intricate close-ups of the beasts, that were Formula One cars in the 1970’s, to the sound that accompanies every rev and every gear change that puts you in the driver’s seat with adrenaline pumping through your veins. Howard uses this audio to accompany the point of view shots that convey the thrill, pace and danger that was part of the lives of Hunt and especially Lauda. This danger climaxes at Nürburgring where Lauda’s crash is so graphic one might think that Howard had found high definition footage of the original crash and the damage it caused to Lauda physically and mentally.

In conclusion Rush is a fantastically portrayed biography of Niki Lauda and James Hunt where the viewer falls in love with both protagonists and their personal struggles”.

            I felt that this brief review of Rush was adequate as it is straight to the point and doesn’t reveal too much about the films plot points. Moving on from this, my second blog focused on the first research seminar, that we were required to attend and blog about. This research seminar was presented by Dr. Lee Jenkins and focused “The Lake Isle of Innishfree and Jamaican Poetry”.

“The Department of English in University College Cork’s first research seminar was held in early October. As it was the first in the series Dr. Heather Laird rose to speak about what the Research Seminars would entail and to introduce the speaker for the day, the excellent Dr. Lee Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins topic was the relationship W.B Yeats’ poem The Lake Isle of Innishfree and the poetry of Jamaican writers such as; Claude McKay, Una Marson and Lorna Goodison.

Having studied ‘The Lake Isle of Innishfree’ for my Leaving Certificate and having visited Innishfree in Sligo, I was aware of the many interpretations one can take from the poem. Dr. Jenkins went on to give us background information and her own understanding of the poem. Yeats was inspired to write the poem while he was in London as he when he was walking through Fleet Street he heard a tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop window. This reminded the homesick Yeats of his teen life in Innishfree. Dr. Jenkins went on to explain how the poem could be read as an attack on colonialism and how this played an important part in inspiring the Jamaican poets.

The first Jamaican poet that we were introduced to was Claude McKay, as I had previously studied McKay is was aware that he had a significant part in the Harlem Renaissance. We looked at McKay’s poem ‘The Hermit’ and Dr. Jenkins showed us the similarities between the two. Like Yeats, McKay wishes to escape urban life and escape to the country where he can live “a peaceful life of solitude”. McKay goes on to say that he wishes to escape “From life’s sad pleasures an’ de greed of pelf”. This may mean that McKay like Yeats hopes to escape British colonialism by fleeing society, which is suffocating him, and by immersing himself in nature.

The next poet that was influenced by ‘The Lake Isle of Innishfree’ was Una Marson. Her poem ‘Nostalgia’ is similar to Yeats as she like him longs to get away from London and to return to Jamaica, which she says is “lovelier far” then England. However, unlike Yeats she does not focus solely on nature, she speaks of friends who want her to return to her native Jamaica.

The final poet was Lorna Goodison who’s poem ‘Country Sligoville has obvious similarities to ‘The Lake Isle of Innishfree’. Dr. Jenkins went on to explain that Sligoville is a town in Jamaica, which was named after Howe Browne the Marquess of Sligo who became Governor-General and Vice-Admiral of Jamaica in 1834. He was also remembered as a champion of slaves, as he freed slaves and allowed Sligoville to become the first free town in Jamaica. Moving on to the poem Goodison assumes a shared cultural inheritance of a heroic past that lives on in the “shamrock” landscapes of Ireland and Jamaica.

            I felt that this blog was an improvement on my previous attempt as it was presented by the excellent Lee Jenkins. I found that Dr. Jenkins style of presenting helped me as the seminars were only one hour long and with the vast amounts of information presented, it was sometimes hard to remember every detail the speaker spoke about.

The next blog I wrote was another one of my required seminar posts. This seminar was presented by a visiting lecturer, Professor Patrick Geoghegan. I decided to write a blog on this seminar as it related to literature covered in my MA and because Prof. Geoghegan spoke about Daniel O’ Connell who I had previously studied as an undergraduate. I found this seminar to be helpful as with my previous knowledge of Daniel O’ Connell I understood his importance in Irish history, however I did not know he had a relationship with Frederick Douglass who we were currently covering in class. I found that this seminar helped me with my classwork as I had a new found understanding of Frederick Douglass’s work.

“Having studied history for my undergraduate degree I jumped at the opportunity to attend a lecture by Professor Patrick Geoghegan on an important figure in Irish history, Daniel O’ Connell.

Professor Geoghegan lecture examined the importance Daniel O’ Connell in an Irish and American context. He showed how O’ Connell considered himself a slave to British rule and felt that it was up to the Catholic Irish people to rebel and free themselves. He befriended, and became a great inspiration to Frederick Douglass, due to his stance on slavery. Douglass would one day go on to be introduced by O’ Connell as the ‘black O’ Connell of the United States’ such was his devotion to the eradication of black slavery in America. However due O’ Connell’s vigorous attacks on slavery he soon began to anger parties in both Ireland and America. He was ridiculed by the Irish for not focusing solely on what was happening in his native land and many people in the United States, even those who did not support slavery, resented being lectured to by an Irishman.

These public declarations by O’ Connell started to alienate the Young Irelanders and they believed that the Repeal Association should only address domestic issues, not international affairs that took place across the Atlantic. They also took a dim view of O’ Connell’s aggressive stance as they feared he was alienating potential supporters in the United States.  At the time attacks on slave owners were not viewed in a positive light and as Charles Gavan Duffy later wrote of how the time was not right “for gratuitous interference in American affairs”.  However this did not deter O’ Connell as he went on to claim that American men who owned slaves were the most the despicable. In 1829 he went on to declare that Simon Bolivar was “The Liberator of South America” for his anti-slavery policies. He added further insult to America when he went on to compare George Washington to Simon Bolivar. O’ Connell stated that owning slaves was a “foul stain upon your character” once again alienating himself from North America.

O’ Connell and Douglass only met once, but it was in Ireland when Douglass visited Ireland as part of his campaign against slavery. They both spoke at the anti-slavery rally and it is evident in O’ Connell’s speech that he hated oppression wherever it existed.

To conclude, in Ireland we view O’ Connell as a nationalist who won Catholic Emancipation and a man who failed in his campaign for Repeal, but he also holds an international reputation through his campaign against slavery. He was an inspiration to Frederick Douglass and Douglass recognised this after O’ Connell’s death when he said that it was not just blow for Ireland- it was the end of “a great champion of freedom”.

            Moving on, my second lost blog post of the year was a reflection on the mini-conference that was held on the 28th March. All members of the specific MA groups had to present on a topic that they hoped to incorporate into their thesis. As I am going to discuss terrorism in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy I decided to focus my presentation how the Joker is represented as a post-9/11 terrorist. I found that my blog posts were getting better as the year went on and I felt that I gave a positive response on how the mini-conference went for me.

For the second year running University College Cork ran a textualities Mini-Conference. This year it was held on Friday the 28thMarch 2013. The Mini-Conference was held in the Western Gateway Building which in my opinion affected the attendance, as it was away from the main campus and the majority of students. The conference featured speakers from the various English MA modules and discussed an array of topics; from Disney movies to poets who had stained their reputation by pickpocketing others work.

I decided to give my presentation on how The Joker is portrayed as a post-9/11 terrorist in The Dark Knight. I choose this topic as I plan to write my thesis on how terror is depicted in Gotham. Like many of my peers I struggled with the Pecha Kucha style of presenting. Pecha Kucha requires twenty slides that are set to change every twenty seconds making the presentation exactly six minutes and forty seconds long. I decided to use different images of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the clown prince which coincided with the points I aimed to make. I believe this was the correct decision as the audience would have been distracted if I put more points on my slides. As the day went on I found that many other members of the group did the same thing. One area I felt I did not perform well on was the Q&A section. I feel like nerves finally kicked in and I fear I wasn’t as clear with my answers as I could have been.

I think the Mini-Conference was a complete success as every member of the conference performed exceptionally. It was thoroughly enjoyable to be part of and found that it was a great way to show off our various areas of interests, to each other and our lecturers.”

            The final blog I wrote was about Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed film Taxi Driver. I got the inspiration for this blog after watching another one of Scorsese’s classics The Departed. I have always had an interest in the film of Martin Scorsese and Vietnam as I studied many modules regarding the topic in my undergrad.

“Having previously studied and completed an essay on Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, I decided to re-watch Taxi Driver, another iconic film by the great director. The film offers us an insight into the issues of masculinity in post-Vietnam cinema. Many critics have claimed that Taxi Driver falls into many genres, I hope to argue that it is very much part of the Western genre.

The film was released in 1976, and assesses the American psyche after the Vietnam War. The protagonist Travis Bickle is as he says an ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran living in New York City. As he suffers from insomnia, he looks for employment as a taxi driver. The longer we spend time with Travis we learn that he is a man who fits nowhere in society, but becomes an emblem of all those who are trying to become human beings while society lies in disarray. What we see is a man adopting many roles throughout the film; the crazed “lone gunman” of the evening news, the vigilante crime fighter, or, as Travis puts it in one of his diary entries, “the person like other people.” Like a lone gunman Travis sees himself as the only person that can clean up the cesspool that is New York City. Travis represents the cowboy as his treatment of the women in the film is similar to that of the Western genre. He wants to protect Betsy from terrors of the street and wants to save the 12 year old Iris from a life of prostitution. Another characteristic that is synonymous with the western cowboy is loneliness and once again we see this in Travis.

When examining the theme of masculinity in Taxi Driver, it is a worthwhile exercise to look at how the other male characters are represented. By comparing Travis with the other male characters and their different representations of masculinity we get a better understanding of how Scorsese depicts the male psyche in post-Vietnam America. By examining Iris’ pimp and Senator Palantine’s campaign aide, Tom we get two more very different and negative portrayals of masculinity. Sport, the pimp has no re-deeming masculine qualities as he is presented to us as manipulative. We see this in his treatment of Iris before they dance as he says; “Ah baby, I don’t want you to like what you’re doing. If you like what you’re doing, then you won’t be my woman”. This is in stark contrast to Travis, who wants to protect woman, whereas Sport is exploiting them for his own gain. The next character that possesses no heroic masculine qualities is Senator Palatine’s campaign aide, Tom. He represents the archetypical post-Vietnam 1970′s American man, as he seems two dimensional, harmless and weak. The lack of a heroic masculine character leaves us with Travis, who seems to understand that society is crying out for a hero. Therefore Travis takes it upon himself to perform the role of the hero and save Iris. He shows up at Iris’s building and in a brutally violent scene shoots Spot and Iris’s john.  Following on from this we learn that Travis has gained heroic status with the headline of one paper reading “Taxi Driver Battles Gangsters”. Iris has been returned to her parents in Pittsburgh and the once repulsed Betsy seem to warm to Travis after his heroic exploits. Although Travis has not changed, he has gained a heroic masculine identity that has been constructed by the narrative of the newspapers.”

            To conclude, over the course of the year I feel that I have grown as an academic writer and this can be seen through the various blogs I have produced. I believe my first blog came across as timid as I was still unsure and nervous of what was anticipated of me as a blogger. However, after this I gained confidence and tried to find topics that I would find of interest to blog about. I chose to name my blog; The blogger no one deserves, but the one we need right now as a quip on the closing speech in The Dark Knight and to make my reader’s aware that I may have a minor infatuation with Batman. Finally I found that having a blog as a requirement for this module was of great benefit to me as it has helped me develop an online writing style and demonstrates how my writing style has progressed throughout the year.

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Literature Review

I have found many useful sources that I hope can add to my thesis. This paper is going to analyse how useful each piece of work is and how I hope to incorporate these into an argument I wish to discuss in my thesis. In my thesis I am going to argue:

  1. How is the terror attack of 9/11 portrayed in the Trilogy?
  2. Who or what do the main characters represent in relation to terrorism and the 9/11 attacks and how are they visible?
  3. Why does America need the Dark Knight?

These points were to the forefront of my mind as I analysed each text and I am going to comment on how the texts can be of benefit to my argument.

            The first text I am going to review is The Superman Exists and, He Is American by Richard Charles Abate. The aim of this thesis paper was to discuss the representation of heroism and masculinity in post-9/11 culture and how the filmic adaptation of graphic novels has helped to shape these representations. Similarly to what I want to explore in my thesis Abate explores how the terror attack of September 11th altered the cultural definitions of the masculine hero. He goes on to explore how there was a new understanding of the American hero who was marked by sexual difference and a redefinition of the masculine “hard body” that allowed for the possession of a heroic masculine identity to appear more attainable. On reading Abate’s work on the new masculine hero it helped me construct an idea as to why America needs Batman and more importantly why America needs a masculine post-9/11 hero.

            Secondly, in Jean Baudrillard’s book The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers, he speaks about the attack being the “mother of all events” (4). He goes on to speak about the impact the attacks have on the American psyche. I found this book extremely helpful as it showed how the attack on the World Trade Centre affected America and how they began to view terrorism. This went on to help me understand how Christopher Nolan developed the three main villains in the trilogy and how he wished to portray them as terrorists.

            Cathy Caruth’s book Trauma: Explorations in Memory help us to understand how a traumatic even can affect an individual or a group of people. When we speak about trauma in this context we think about the 9/11 attack and why it has been portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Caruth analyses how one can recover from a traumatic experience and I hope to show that by watching the terrorist attacks in the trilogy one can come to understand and deal with the attack on the World Trade Centre.

            Lars Dittmer analyses the Joker as a prototype of the post September 11th villain. I found this of great use because; firstly it went into great detail on how the Clown Prince is shown as a post-9/11 terrorist in The Dark Knight and; secondly I got an insight into the template Nolan had for creating more post-9/11 terrorists in the form of Bane.

            Moving on to Brent Holmes essay titled Why They Wear the Mask: The Mouthpiece of Nolan’s Trilogy we gain an insight into the use of masks by both Batman and his enemies. We learn that these masks, act as a symbol of identity representing the character’s voice in the world. While Batman’s enemies’ masks suggest a permanent change to their identity, Batman leaves a window into his reality revealing a layering of identities that allow him to navigate his world that is Gotham. This essay helps us to understand how the use of mask’s help represent the main characters as villains or hero’s and how the mask can portray terror.

            Finally in Frances Pheasant-Kelly’s book Fantasy Film Post 9/11 we are introduced to “arresting images”. This term describes how an image can create allusions to other events and how these allusions can evoke certain emotions in people through their own memories of the said event. These memories are called “traumatic memories”. The use of these “arresting images” is a powerful tool in creating allusions to terrorism and we see them used on numerous occasions in Nolan’s trilogy. Through my reading of Pheasant-Kelly’s book I have come to understand how these “arresting images” are used and aim to use this knowledge by analysing specific scenes and still from the films that show how the affect the viewers “traumatic memories”.

            In conclusion the above sources are going to help me develop a thesis that will argue how terror is represented in the Dark Knight trilogy. I found these sources of great use as they helped me gain a broader understanding of how small details of the characters costumes affect the viewer’s perception of them. Through my reading I have also found that the traumatic effect of 9/11 is shown in the trilogy and how it can be used as treatment to help those affected by the attack.

 

 

Works Cited

Abate, Richard Charles. “‘The Superman Exists, and He Is American’: Graphic Novel Film Adaptations and Masculine Heroism in Post-9/11 Culture.” Connecticut College, 2010.

Baudrillard, Jean. The Spirit of Terrorism and Other Essays. Verso, 2003. Print.

Caruth, Cathy. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. JHU Press, 1995. Print.

Fradley, Martin. “What Do You Believe In? Film Scholarship and the Cultural Politics of the Dark Knight Franchise.” Film Quarterly 66.3 (2013): 15–27.

“GRIN – New Evil – The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ as a Prototype of the Post-September 11-Villain.” N. p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Holmes Brent, “Why They Wear the Mask: ‘The Mouthpiece of Nolan’s Batman Trilogy.’” Kino: The Western Undergraduate Journal of Film Studies Vol. 4.1 (2013): n. pag.

Nolan, Christopher. Batman Begins. Warner Bros., 2005. DVD.

—. The Dark Knight. Warner Bros., 2008. DVD.

—. The Dark Knight Rises. Warner Bros., 2012. DVD.

Pheasant-Kelly, Frances. Fantasy Film Post 9/11. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.

You Talking To Me?

Having previously studied and completed an essay on Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, I decided to re-watch Taxi Driver, another iconic film by the great director. The film offers us an insight into the issues of masculinity in post-Vietnam cinema. Many critics have claimed that Taxi Driver falls into many genres, I hope to argue that it is very much part of the Western genre.

The film was released in 1976, and assesses the American psyche after the Vietnam War. The protagonist Travis Bickle is as he says an ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran living in New York City. As he suffers from insomnia, he looks for employment as a taxi driver. The longer we spend time with Travis we learn that he is a man who fits nowhere in society, but becomes an emblem of all those who are trying to become human beings while society lies in disarray. What we see is a man adopting many roles throughout the film; the crazed “lone gunman” of the evening news, the vigilante crime fighter, or, as Travis puts it in one of his diary entries, “the person like other people.” Like a lone gunman Travis sees himself as the only person that can clean up the cesspool that is New York City. Travis represents the cowboy as his treatment of the women in the film is similar to that of the Western genre. He wants to protect Betsy from terrors of the street and wants to save the 12 year old Iris from a life of prostitution. Another characteristic that is synonymous with the western cowboy is loneliness and once again we see this in Travis.

When examining the theme of masculinity in Taxi Driver, it is a worthwhile exercise to look at how the other male characters are represented. By comparing Travis with the other male characters and their different representations of masculinity we get a better understanding of how Scorsese depicts the male psyche in post-Vietnam America. By examining Iris’ pimp and Senator Palantine’s campaign aide, Tom we get two more very different and negative portrayals of masculinity. Sport, the pimp has no re-deeming masculine qualities as he is presented to us as manipulative. We see this in his treatment of Iris before they dance as he says; “Ah baby, I don’t want you to like what you’re doing. If you like what you’re doing, then you won’t be my woman”. This is in stark contrast to Travis, who wants to protect woman, whereas Sport is exploiting them for his own gain. The next character that possesses no heroic masculine qualities is Senator Palantin’es campaign aide, Tom. He represents the archetypical post-Vietnam 1970’s American man, as he seems two dimensional, harmless and weak. The lack of a heroic masculine character leaves us with Travis, who seems to understand that society is crying out for a hero. Therefore Travis takes it upon himself to perform the role of the hero and save Iris. He shows up at Iris’s building and in a brutally violent scene shoots Spot and Iris’s john.  Following on from this we learn that Travis has gained heroic status with the headline of one paper reading “Taxi Driver Battles Gangsters”. Iris has been returned to her parents in Pittsburgh and the once repulsed Betsy seem to warm to Travis after his heroic exploits. Although Travis has not changed, he has gained a heroic masculine identity that has been constructed by the narrative of the newspapers.

 

Works Cited

Mortimer, Barbara. Portraits of the Postmodern Person in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The King of Comedy, Journal of Film and Video, Vol. 49, No. 1/2 (Spring-Summer 1997), pp. 28-38.

Taxi Driver. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Columbia Pictures, 1976. DVD.

 

Textualities 2014

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Textualities 2014

For the second year running University College Cork ran a textualities Mini-Conference. This year it was held on Friday the 28th March 2013. The Mini-Conference was held in the Western Gateway Building which in my opinion affected the attendance, as it was away from the main campus and the majority of students. The conference featured speakers from the various English MA modules and discussed an array of topics; from Disney movies to poets who had stained their reputation by pickpocketing others work.

Image

I decided to give my presentation on how The Joker is portrayed as a post-9/11 terrorist in The Dark Knight.I choose this topic as I plan to write my thesis on how terror is depicted in Gotham. Like many of my peers I struggled with the Pecha Kucha style of presenting. Pecha Kucha requires twenty slides that are set to change every twenty seconds making the presentation exactly six minutes and forty seconds long. I decided to use different images of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the clown prince which coincided with the points I aimed to make. I believe this was the correct decision as the audience would have been distracted if I put more points on my slides. As the day went on I found that many other members of the group did the same thing. One area I felt I did not perform well on was the Q&A section. I feel like nerves finally kicked in and I fear I wasn’t as clear with my answers as I could have been.

I think the Mini-Conference was a complete success as every member of the conference performed exceptionally. It was thoroughly enjoyable to be part of and found that it was a great way to show off our various areas of interests, to each other and our lecturers.

 

Christopher James

Christopher James graduated from University College Cork in 2013 with a Joint Bachelors Degree in English and History. He returned to study the American Literature and Film MA. He has always had an interest in American Film that has been influenced by iconic moments in history. He hopes to develop a thesis on how terrorism and in particular the terrorist attack on World Trade Center in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. For his presentation he is going to focus on how The Joker is a post-9/11 terrorist in The Dark Knight.

Transatlantic Connections: Professor Patrick Geoghegan on Daniel O’Connell

Having studied history for my undergraduate degree I jumped at the opportunity to attend a lecture by Professor Patrick Geoghegan on an important figure in Irish history, Daniel O’ Connell.

Professor Geoghegan lecture examined the importance Daniel O’ Connell in an Irish and American context. He showed how O’ Connell considered himself a slave to British rule and felt that it was up to the Catholic Irish people to rebel and free themselves. He befriended, and became a great inspiration to Frederick Douglass, due to his stance on slavery. Douglass would one day go on to be introduced by O’ Connell as the ‘black O’ Connell of the United States’ such was his devotion to the eradication of black slavery in America. However due O’ Connell’s vigorous attacks on slavery he soon began to anger parties in both Ireland and America. He was ridiculed by the Irish for not focusing solely on what was happening in his native land and many people in the United States, even those who did not support slavery, resented being lectured to by an Irishman.

These public declarations by O’ Connell started to alienate the Young Irelanders and they believed that the Repeal Association should only address domestic issues, not international affairs that took place across the Atlantic. They also took a dim view of O’ Connell’s aggressive stance as they feared he was alienating potential supporters in the United States.  At the time attacks on slave owners were not viewed in a positive light and as Charles Gavan Duffy later wrote of how the time was not right “for gratuitous interference in American affairs”.  However this did not deter O’ Connell as he went on to claim that American men who owned slaves were the most the despicable. In 1829 he went on to declare that Simon Bolivar was “The Liberator of South America” for his anti-slavery policies. He added further insult to America when he went on to compare George Washington to Simon Bolivar. O’ Connell stated that owning slaves was a “foul stain upon your character” once again alienating himself from North America.

O’ Connell and Douglass only met once, but it was in Ireland when Douglass visited Ireland as part of his campaign against slavery. They both spoke at the anti-slavery rally and it is evident in O’ Connell’s speech that he hated oppression wherever it existed.

To conclude, in Ireland we view O’ Connell as a nationalist who won Catholic Emancipation and a man who failed in his campaign for Repeal, but he also holds an international reputation through his campaign against slavery. He was an inspiration to Frederick Douglass and Douglass recognised this after O’ Connell’s death when he said that it was not just blow for Ireland- it was the end of “a great champion of freedom”.

Works Cited

“Consistent Advocate of Nigger emancipation’: Daniel O’Connell and the Campaign against Slavery.” History Ireland. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

 

Research Seminar- Dr. Lee Jenkins “Water Songs: The Lake Isle of Innishfree and Jamaican Poetry

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The Department of English in University College Cork’s first research seminar was held in early October. As it was the first in the series Dr. Heather Laird rose to speak about what the Research Seminars would entail and to introduce the speaker for the day, the excellent Dr. Lee Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins topic was the relationship W.B Yeats’ poem The Lake Isle of Innishfree and the poetry of Jamaican writers such as; Claude McKay, Una Marson and Lorna Goodison.

Having studied ‘The Lake Isle of Innishfree’ for my Leaving Certificate and having visited Innishfree in Sligo, I was aware of the many interpretations one can take from the poem. Dr. Jenkins went on to give us background information and her own understanding of the poem. Yeats was inspired to write the poem while he was in London as he when he was walking through Fleet Street he heard a tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop window. This reminded the homesick Yeats of his teen life in Innishfree. Dr. Jenkins went on to explain how the poem could be read as an attack on colonialism and how this played an important part in inspiring the Jamaican poets.

The first Jamaican poet that we were introduced to was Claude McKay, as I had previously studied McKay is was aware that he had a significant part in the Harlem Renaissance. We looked at McKay’s poem ‘The Hermit’ and Dr. Jenkins showed us the similarities between the two. Like Yeats, McKay wishes to escape urban life and escape to the country where he can live “a peaceful life of solitude”. McKay goes on to say that he wishes to escape “From life’s sad pleasures an’ de greed of pelf”. This may mean that McKay like Yeats hopes to escape British colonialism by fleeing society, which is suffocating him, and by immersing himself in nature.

The next poet that was influenced by ‘The Lake Isle of Innishfree’ was Una Marson. Her poem ‘Nostalgia’ is similar to Yeats as she like him longs to get away from London and to return to Jamaica, which she says is “lovelier far” then England. However, unlike Yeats she does not focus solely on nature, she speaks of friends who want her to return to her native Jamaica.

The final poet was Lorna Goodison who’s poem ‘Country Sligoville has obvious similarities to ‘The Lake Isle of Innishfree’. Dr. Jenkins went on to explain that Sligoville is a town in Jamaica, which was named after Howe Browne the Marquess of Sligo who became Governor-General and Vice-Admiral of Jamaica in 1834. He was also remembered as a champion of slaves, as he freed slaves and allowed Sligoville to become the first free town in Jamaica. Moving on to the poem Goodison assumes a shared cultural inheritance of a heroic past that lives on in the “shamrock” landscapes of Ireland and Jamaica.