Medbh McGuckian was born in 1950 to Catholic parents in Belfast, Ireland. She studied with Seamus Heaney at Queen’s University, earning a BA and MA, and later returned as the university’s first female writer-in-residence.
McGuckian’s poems are layered collages of feminine and domestic imagery complicated by a liminal, active syntax that, in drawing attention to the weight of one phrase on another, emphasizes and questions our constructions of power and gender. Her work is reminiscent of Rainer Maria Rilke in its emotional scope and John Ashbery in its creation of rich interior landscapes. Praising McGuckian’s Selected Poems (1997), Seamus Heaney said, “Her language is like the inner lining of consciousness, the inner lining of English itself, and it moves amphibiously between the dreamlife and her actual domestic and historical experience as a woman in late-20th-century Ireland.”
McGuckian has earned significant critical acclaim over the course of her career. Her poem “The Flitting,” published under a male pseudonym, won the 1979 National Poetry Competition. In 1980 McGuckian published two chapbooks of poetry and also won the prestigious Eric Gregory Award. Her first collection, The Flower Master (1982), won the Poetry Society’s Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and an award from the Ireland Arts Council. On Ballycastle Beach (1988) won the Cheltenham Award, and The Currach Requires No Harbours (2007) was short-listed for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award.
Her honors also include the Bass Ireland Award for Literature, the Denis Devlin Award, and the American Ireland Fund’s Literary Award. She won the Forward Prize for Best Poem for “She Is in the Past, She Has This Grace.”
She edited The Big Striped Golfing Umbrella: Poems by Young People from Northern Ireland (1985) and co-translated, with Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, the Irish poet Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill’s collection The Water Horse (1999). She is the author most recently of Horsepower Pass By! A Study of the Car in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney (1999), and the poetry collections My Love Has Fared Inland (2010) and The High Caul Cap (2013).
Dominican Convent, Fortwilliam Park, Belfast, Northern Ireland, teacher, 1974; St. Patrick's College, Knock, Belfast, instructor, 1975—; Queen's University, Belfast, writer-in-residence, c. 1985-88.
- Single Ladies: Sixteen Poems (chapbook), Interim Press, 1980.
- Portrait of Joanna (chapbook), Ulsterman, 1980.
- (With Damian Gorman and Douglas Marshall) Trio Poetry, Blackstaff Press, 1981.
- The Flower Master, Oxford University Press, 1982, reprinted as The Flower Master and Other Poems, Gallery Press (County Meath), 1993.
- The Greenhouse, Steane, c. 1983.
- Venus and the Rain, Oxford University Press, 1984.
- On Ballycastle Beach, Oxford University Press, 1988 and Wake Forest University Press (Winston-Salem, NC), 1988, reprinted, Gallery Books, 1995.
- (With Nuala Archer) Two Women, Two Shores, New Poets, 1989.
- Marconi's Cottage, Gallery Press (County Meath), 1991 and Wake Forest University Press, 1992.
- Captain Lavender, Wake Forest University Press, 1995.
- Selected Poems, 1978-1994, Gallery Press, 1997 and Wake Forest University Press, 1997.
- Shelmalier, Wake Forest University Press, 1998.
- Drawing Ballerinas, Gallery Press, 2001.
- The Face of the Earth, Gallery Press, 2002.
- The Soldiers of Year II, Wake Forest University Press, 2002.
- The Book of the Angel, Gallery Press, 2004 and Wake Forest University Press, 2004.
- The Currach Requires no Harbours, Wake Forest University Press, 2007.
- My Love Has Fared Inland, Wake Forest University Press, 2010.
- The High Caul Cap, Wake Forest University Press, 2013.
- (Editor) The Big Striped Golfing Umbrella: Poems by Young People from Northern Ireland, illustrated by Anne Carlisle, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 1985.
- Horsepower Pass By! A Study of the Car in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, University of Ulster, 1999.
- (Translator, with Eilean Ni Chuilleanain) The Water Horse: Poems in Irish by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Gallery Press, 1999.
Also author of poem, The Flitting. Contributor to periodicals; editor of Fortnight.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 48, Gale, 1988, pp. 274-79.
- Haberstroh, Patricia Boyle, Women Creating Women: Comtemporary Irish Women Poets, Syracuse University Press, 1996.
- New Statesman, August 31, 1984, p. 26.
- New Statesman and Society, August 26, 1988, p. 38; August 28, 1992, p. 36.
- New Yorker, May 23, 1994, p. 101.
- New York Times Book Review, August 30, 1992, p. 12; April 14, 1996, p. 11.
- Observer (London), July 10, 1988, p. 42.
- Parnassus, Volume 16, number 1, 1990, pp. 195-217.
- Times (London), January 24, 1985.
- Times Literary Supplement, August 21, 1981, p. 952; August 13, 1982; p. 876; October 29, 1982, p. 1200; November 30, 1984, p. 1393; August 19-25, 1988, p. 915; July 10, 1992, p. 23.