The Influence of Absences

I’ve told the story before, of how I went to QUB wanting to be a writer. (Actually I already was a writer, albeit a fledgling one. I had been writing stories and poems for as long as I could remember. When I was in sixth form, I had won the Belfast Telegraph Short Story Competition.) Yet, when I emerged from university in the late 1970’s, I had stopped writing and lost all confidence. I no longer thought that I had anything of value to say; never mind the ability to say it. I was silenced.


During my time at university there was no-one to look to. No women poets that I could find as contemporary references in NI. There was no sense from anyone I spoke to that a woman could be a serious poet. I felt it was stupid of me to have thought I could. This was despite me considering myself a feminist. There wasn’t even anything creative about the degree; no ‘creative writing’ option. I moved on to postgraduate study in a completely different area of life.

 I have blamed the university for my silence and I have also blamed myself – for not being braver, cleverer, more tenacious.


Well over a decade had passed before I allowed myself to consider re-visiting my ambition to be write poems; though in the meantime I had continued to scribble bits and pieces that didn’t see the light of day. Second time around there were supports in place, put there by women who were more tenacious than me, Joan Newmann, Ruth Carr, people determined to have women’s voices heard. There were writers’ groups that allowed a platform for everyone, with great tutors like Damian Gorman and Martin Mooney. I will always be grateful to those who encouraged and supported me at that stage and to both Lapwing Press and Lagan Press who opened the doors to publication.


All this is by way of a preamble to draw attention to a very interesting academic paper from Alex Pryce – Ambiguous Silences? Women in Anthologies of Contemporary Northern Irish Poetry

When I came across it recently, I was able to see myself in the historical context of the NI of my youth. It allowed me to put my experience in context and to understand more fully why I felt the way I did. It saddened me, but in a strange way reassured me that it wasn’t just my own inability that held me back. It validated the sense I had as a twenty year old woman, that I was expected to not expect anything, to just shut up. Almost four decades later, it validates the truth my experience.


See what you think.

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