Elaine’s ‘History Lesson’ shines in new anthology

Poet Elaine Feeney
Poet Elaine Feeney

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Elaine Feeney is justifiably regarded as one of the most honest, spot-on, and often funny, poets to emerge from Galway in recent years. In poems such as Harvest, she has written about the Tuam Mother and Baby home, while History Lesson offers a fresh view on a subject that’s generally told from a male, white perspective.

History Lesson is included in a new anthology, edited by journalist Una Mullally, which is billed as “an inclusive, articulate and deeply compassionate portrait of the urgent movement for reproductive rights in Ireland”.

Repeal the 8th features some of the country’s finest writers and journalists, including Ann Enright, Louise O’Neill, Nell McCafferty and Elaine’s fellow Galwegian, Lisa McInerney, as well as comedian Caitlin Moran.

It was at the launch of Lisa’s second novel, The Blood Miracles, that Elaine embraced this project, when she was introduced to Una Mullally and Ann Enright.

As they were discussing women and Repeal, fellow-writer Sinéad Gleeson told Una about Elaine’s forthcoming poetry collection, Rise (her third, published last year).

“Una read it and liked it and asked if History Lesson could be included in this anthology,” recalls Elaine.

With good reason – because it offers a fresh perspective on a familiar subject.

“It traces the narrative of men and women through history in a satirical way, to show their absurd absence,” Elaine explains. “It’s like, you don’t know you’re missing from history, until you know.”

The poem was born out of her work in St Jarlath’s College in Tuam. A history teacher, she was becoming  increasingly frustrated with the lack of women in the history curriculum and this came to a head one day during a Junior Cert class.

“I noticed this long, linear, chronological course of great men, that’s like a neat narrative. But it allows for very little critical thinking or for any accounts of people other than, for the most part, white men.”

Elaine asked her all-boys’ class how their peers in Tuam’s girls’ schools would feel, sitting in History classes and having their gender mostly ignored. “Save for a Lady of the manor, or a girl in Rome,” she adds, with irony.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.