Drawing Ballerinas


Medbh McGuckian

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I may not be in the trenches, but I am in a front line of my own making.
— Matisse, 19 July 1916

In Drawing Ballerinas Medbh McGuckian brings her radical art to bear on the long drawn-out process of change in the North of Ireland while she tries to comprehend some of the backward and forward steps and the many sacrifices and tragic gestures involved in achieving a settled state. As ever, her work is shaded with an erotic charge as it dramatizes her responses to the H-Block, the ceasefires, questions of decommissioning, and the inter-connections of landscape and language.

Constantly affirming the validity and necessity of aesthetics, the muse of this book is not so much Peace as what Edward Said calls ‘peace with justice’. As The New Yorker has recognised, ‘her dreamlike poems underscore the notion that one finds clarity by repeatedly stepping outside one’s usual frame of reference.’


Belfast-born Medbh McGuckian’s new collection Drawing Ballerinas consolidates what is already an achieved and unique presence in Irish poetry. Her mind is astonishing – within her world Kafka dines comfortably with Vita Sackville-West. All of her work has that sense of clairvoyance, of being able to apprehend more than what is offered and obvious in everyday life.

Thomas McCarthy, Cork Literary Review

This poet challenges the reader with poems you must read like fire-flames — fascinating, glimmering experiences that conjure surreal images dissolving into each other with such mental speed that on first reading you receive the sensation, the emotional charge, the imagery, without being at all certain of the poem’s actuality . . . Through these disturbing, amusing, often caustic poems runs a powerful affirmative undertone, a sense of the poet’s own courage, her reliance on the power of her art to discover and relate the truth, even in extremis, even as she follows the example of Matisse in wartime, surviving aesthetically by ‘drawing ballerinas’.

— James J. McAuley, Poetry Ireland Review

Year Published: 2001
Details: 72pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 291 2

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