In her Irish Times review of Medbh McGuckian’s most recent collection, Marine Cloud Brightening, Martina Evans described her as ‘more relevant than ever, eerily prescient, [she] continues her unique mining of verbal language’. Riffing on and repeating words the majority of the poems in The Thankless Paths to Freedom were conceived in the hiatus between Ireland’s centenary celebrations for the 1916 Rising and the hundred year anniversary of the setting up of the Northern Irish state in 1921. Images of cells and privation, isolation and penitentiaries, abound.
The poetic persona itself seems to form a prison; landscape and environment are equally enslaved. The dominant Yeatsian muse is Constance Markievicz in her paradoxical history of privilege and sacrifice.
As this constantly inventive poet writes, ‘the only way I could // achieve an intentional fall was / to become plural, to reassemble . . . and haunt myself’.
“One of our finest and most enigmatic poets, Medbh McGuckian, returns with The Thankless Paths to Freedom . . . As with all of McGuckian’s intricate work, there is real texture to the form of these poems — a propulsive alliteration, an attention to internal rhyme, to rhythm — that allows the poems to flow and communicate a sense beyond literal meaning. The become, also, vehicles of affect, of sensation, of music. ‘Time’s hand / touching, after time has flown, hangs the dated / death by a blue heavenly, a reckless / blossoming’. Present, too, are crystalline images that hint at the political, at social change, without ever fully giving up their secrets. This is a glinting and ornamented world that slips in and out of the real and the dream, the past and the present, delivering its message through the subconscious, though hinting always at real critique. The curve of the streets, in the poem Star Patient, for example, is ‘like a jewel box / tormenting / the altar steps’.” — Seán Hewitt, The Irish Times