The Modern Irish Sonnet: Revision and Rebellion

Dr. Tara Stubbs most recent monograph, The Modern Irish Sonnet: Revision and Rebellion was published in the autumn by Palgrave – and the book took shape as a direct result of input from students attending her weekly class, ‘The Sonnet’, held in Michaelmas term, 2017. 

The students particularly helped her think about the relationship between critical and creative writing, and the different reasons why poets might write and read sonnets. The thematic shape of the book, which moves through different clichés and assumptions about the sonnet, is testament to the students’ comments; the structure of the book is deliberately non-chronological and non-canonical.

'My students helped me realise that form can be learnt and re-learnt: that what one thinks of as a specific form when one studies at school can take on different meanings and impressions when one returns to it as an adult, and then again later as a critical reader or as a writer. Similarly, Irish poets might return to the form over time, and find different things in it - either to employ, to revise or even to rebel against'.  

Noting that a hallmark of continuing education is the confidence and experience that adult learners bring to their studies, Tara said, ‘My wonderful, challenging students helped formulate many of the ideas that have ended up in this book.’ She thanks her students in the book’s acknowledgements. 

The book 

The book has been described by Bernard O’Donoghue (Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, and a published poet) as a ‘comprehensive and compelling study of a strikingly rich poetic field’. It provides an overview of the historical and origins – both national and international – of the form before explaining how and why the sonnet has appealed to Irish writers over the past hundred years.  

Speaking of the sonnet form, Tara said, ‘Irish poets got in touch with me, sending me copies of their poems and collections, and in conversations helped dispel myths that Irish writers are not interested in apparent "English" forms; in fact, they thought that some of these critical ideas were outmoded and unrepresentative of a poem-writing community that embraced many diverse influences. Another very famous Irish poet mentioned that to consider the sonnet as "English" is itself a fallacy, as the sonnet has its roots in English, Italian, French and other poetic traditions. It made me realise that to read Shakespeare's sonnets is not necessarily to encounter an "English" poet, but to read a poet, and poems, that have international reach.' 

Previews of each chapter freely available to read on the publisher’s website. 

Public Engagement in Poetry 

Tara continues to run a public engagement project, ‘Poetry and Structure’, begun in 2017, which is closely linked to her work on the sonnet. The project runs free workshops with local groups in Oxfordshire to show the possibilities of poetry. Each workshop uses a poem it as a springboard to think about connections between the internal structure of a poem and structures in the outside world. For more information about this, or to take part in future (free) workshops, please visit the Poetry and Structure webpage. 

Published 13 May 2021