Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences

School of English Research Seminar

Benjamin Keating, 'To seem a white king’s gem': Richard Murphy’s Sri Lankan poems and Irish Postcolonial Studies

Benjamin Keatinge is a Visiting Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin having worked as Dean of the Faculty of Languages, Cultures and Communication at South East European University, FYR Macedonia from 2012-2016. He is co-editor of France and Ireland in the Public Imagination (Peter Lang, 2014) and Other Edens: The Life and Work of Brian Coffey (Irish Academic Press, 2010). Author of several articles and reviews on modern and contemporary Irish poetry, he is currently editing a volume on Richard Murphy titled Making Integral: Critical Essays on Richard Murphy. Abstract: This paper explores Richard Murphy’s engagement with Sri Lanka by emphasising the continuities between Murphy’s post-colonial view of Irish and Sri Lankan circumstances. Via Antoinette Quinn’s claim that ‘Sigiriya is a Sri Lankan Aughrim’, the paper addresses three distinct phases of Murphy’s Sri Lankan verse: the poems of his Ceylon childhood published in High Island (1974), his 1989 volume The Mirror Wall and the later poems collected in Poems 1952-2012 (Lilliput, 2013), published in Part Six of that volume ‘Sri Lanka and poems finished the years 1985-2012’. By drawing upon postcolonial criticism in Irish studies, the nuances of Murphy’s exploration of postcolonial guilt, restitution and rebuilding come into clearer focus.

The binaries in which Murphy’s oeuvre has often been cast - coloniser and colonised, native and settler, Anglo- Irish and Gaelic Irish – take on more diverse colours when the Sri Lankan poems are considered. Murphy’s exploration of the ventriloquistic possibilities of the graffiti on The Mirror Wall at Sigiriya arguably builds on Murphy’s poetic procedures in his preceding volume, The Price of Stone (1985) and can be viewed in alignment with anti-essentialist postcolonial theories of mimicry and hybridity. Murphy’s lifetime has traversed major postcolonial upheavals across Asia and Africa and his work is indelibly inflected with a critique of (post-)imperial Britain. His engagement with Sri Lankan culture represents an extension of that critique and also a tentative effort to transcend other binaries such as those between Sinhalese and Tamil ethnicities or Buddhist and Hindu religions. This paper will draw on letters and memorabilia from the Richard Murphy papers at University of Tulsa to enhance our understanding of Murphy’s relationship with Ceylon / Sri Lanka and its wider significance for understanding his work in relation to Irish postcolonial studies.

Category: Public Lectures and Seminars: Arts Celtic Studies and Social Sciences
Time: 3-4pm
Location: Room 2.12 O'Rahilly Building UCC
Target Audience: All welcome
Admission Price: € Free
Contact: Clíona Ó Gallchoir
021 4903288

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