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Paula Meehan’s Pubs: From Pub Counter to Counter-Public Sphere

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LITTLE James Joseph

Year of publication 2022
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description This paper contends that Paula Meehan uses the Irish pub as a means of creating a feminist ‘counter-public sphere’ in her poetry (Felski 1989). Developing Jürgen Habermas’s idea of the ‘bourgeois public sphere’ (1991) – an arena where private individuals bracket social differences in order to discuss matters of public concern – and subjecting its universalist aspirations to critique, Rita Felski’s concept of the ‘counter-public sphere’ describes social movements emerging in the 1970s and 1980s whose ‘emancipatory project no longer appeals to an idea of universality but is directed toward an affirmation of specificity in relation to gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual preference, and so on’ (1989, 166). As other scholars have shown, Meehan’s poetry can be fruitfully examined in relation to such movements, particularly second-wave feminism (see Brain 1996; Mahoney 1999; González-Arias 2009; Auge 2013), but the pub as locus of the Irish public sphere has thus far received little critical attention. Starting with the depiction of the interior of a public house in ‘Tempus Fugit’ (1984), the paper goes on to examine Dublin’s Rosebowl Bar as a site of exclusion in ‘Buying Winkles’ (1991). The third section focuses on the domestic sphere: I analyse the pub as an important agent in the instances of addiction and abuse that permeate Meehan’s oeuvre, focussing in particular on the account of domestic violence in ‘Thunder in the House’ (2000). All three poems are examined in light of the gendered dynamics of Irish public space. Meehan’s depictions of the Irish pub stand as important counter-narratives to the frequently backslapping descriptions of the public house in Irish culture. Furthermore, the pub is important to her development as a poet. In tracking a movement away from the pub counter across her career, we can identify Meehan carving out a counter-public sphere in her poetry.
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