Meehan, Paula

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Nationality: Irish. Born: Dublin, 25 June 1955. Education: Trinity College, Dublin, 1972–77, B.A. 1977; Eastern Washington University, Cheney, Washington, 1981–83, M.F.A. 1983. Career: Has held varioius residencies in universities, communities, prisons, and theaters. Has written for film and for contemporary dance and has frequently collaborated with musicians, from the avant-garde to folk, and with visual artists. Awards: Irish Arts Council bursary in literature, 1987, 1990; Martin Toonder award for literature, 1995; Butler literary award for poetry, Irish American Cultural Institute, 1998.



Return and No Blame. Dublin, Beaver Row Press, 1984.

Reading the Sky. Dublin, Beaver Row Press, 1988.

The Man Who Was Marked by Winter. Oldcastle, County Meath, Gallery Press, 1991, and Cheney, Washington, Eastern Washington University Press, 1994.

Pillow Talk. Oldcastle, County Meath, Gallery Press, 1994.

Mysteries of the Home: A Selection of Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1996.

Dharmakaya. Manchester, Carcanet, 2000.


Kirkle (produced Dublin, 1995).

The Voyage (produced Dublin 1997).

Mrs. Sweeney (produced Dublin 1997). Dublin, New Island, 1999.

Cell (produced Dublin 1999). Dublin, New Island, 2000.


Critical Studies: Interview with Theo Dorgan, in Colby Quarterly (Waterville, Maine), 28(4), December 1992; "Refusing the Poisoned Chalice: The Sexual Politics of Rita Ann Higgins and Paula Meehan" by Karen Steele, in Homemaking: Women Writers and the Politics and Poetics of Home, edited by Catherine Wiley and Fiona R. Barnes, New York, Garland, 1996; "Dry Socks and Floating Signifiers: Paula Meehan's Poems" by Tracy Brain, in Critical Survey (England), 8(1), 1996; "The Pressure of Humanity" by Ben Howard, in Shenandoah (Lexington, Virginia), 46(1), spring 1996.

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Paula Meehan's rise has been rapid since her first collection, Return and No Blame, appeared in 1984 and her second, Reading the Sky, in 1988. The poems are jaunty and warm, seeking a full, feminine voice. She looks back to tradition, assuming the voice of Liadain or rewriting one of the few human poems from the bardic tradition as if it were a woman speaking. She also uses North Dublin street talk; indeed, she seems more involved with the city than any Irish poet since Clarke and Kinsella.

Meehan's third book, The Man Who Was Marked by Winter (1991), draws on the first two, but there is a new surety, as in "The Pattern," an expanded sequence for her mother. There is uneasiness as well, what Antoinette Quinn has called "a migrant restiveness," the poet as prowler, an uneasiness that also shows in the love poems. Meehan can be comic about male inefficiency, as in "My Love about His Business in the Barn," but "The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks" is a poignant indictment of an Irish society that lets young women go to waste.

Athena, warrior and goddess of wisdom, is the image on the cover of Pillow Talk (1994), and the complex nature of woman is a recurring theme. Traditional views are rejected in "Not Your Muse," but Meehan's father is transformed into Saint Francis in the opening poem, and there is a lovely lament for a broken marriage in "Not alone the rue in my herb garden …":

  O my friend,
do not turn on me in hatred,
do not curse the day we met.
What is impressive about Meehan's later work is the increasing
ease with which she deals with a variety of moods, from the gentle to
the ferocious:
  From one breast
flows the Milky Way, the starry path,
a sluggish trickle of pus from the other.

She is one of the best younger poets around, and as Eavan Boland says, her "themes are daring and open up new areas for her own work as well as for contemporary Irish poetry."

—John Montague