This is a six chapter study of the image of the female in Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry emphasizing the ways in which she revises conventional cultural images of women in order to challenge stereotypical images and create a more multidimensional perspective on women’s lives and achievements. It explores the way in which she uses history, myth and folklore, religion and ritual, and architectural space to revise and create alternative female figures.
Short-listed in 2010 for both the T.S. Eliot and the Irish Times Poetry Now awards, Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry has recently gained international attention; an edition of her Selected Poems, published in 2008, has also brought her work to a wider reading public. Although she has been publishing for over forty years, there has been only limited critical focus on her work. Expanding the range of her readers and increasing the popularity of her poetry, she is becoming much better known in England and the United States and to a wider European reading community, especially in Italy and Spain. Because Ní Chuilleanáin is involved in several European translation projects, her work is becoming known in other countries as well.
Beginning with an examination of some traditional images of women in Irish historical and cultural narratives, the book moves to explore the ways in which Ní Chuilleanáin creates female subjects and speakers who illustrate the multiple roles that women play and who work against a limited and stereotypical image of woman “in the home.” Challenging some conventional images of the female, she turns to historical and mythic figures, saints, nuns, and women in her own family history to present female figures that move beyond gendered stereotypes. She interrogates some conventional figures by presenting a different perspective on their lives; she creates other figures who illustrate the more ordinary, but often invisible lives, of “real,” rather than abstract women. Some of her focus is on restoring materiality to images of women, and to “unveiling” the female body as a reaction to puritanical and negative attitudes towards female sexuality.