The ‘Interrupted Georgics’ of Mushrooms in Contemporary Irish Poetry
Keywords:fungi, companion species, georgic, Anthropocene, Ireland/Northern Ireland
The vitality of the georgic mode operates counter to inertia and disorder, driven by the initiative of dynamic labor. Still, Edna Longley, in coining the term “interrupted georgics,” argues that the rupture of war disrupting an agricultural scene defines the georgic. Accordingly, the precariousness of Ireland and Northern Ireland during the Troubles and the EU Referendum in a (pre/post-)Brexit context acts as a felicitous starting point for a generic revival of the georgic mode. Through a selection of contemporary mushroom poems that meditate on this contested history over a 45-year period—Derek Mahon, “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford” (1973), Paul Muldoon, “Gathering Mushrooms” (1983), Ruth Carr, “Mushroom” (1995), Chris Agee, “Mushrooming” (2003), Padraig Regan, “Rehydrating Mushrooms” (2018), and Ailbhe Darcy, “Mushrooms” (2018)—this paper considers how mushrooms embody the georgic mode for the purpose of ecological remediation. These lyric explorations of the Anthropocene under discussion replicate a symbiotic relationship between the human and nonhuman world as situated within a georgic trajectory. While Virgil does not mention in the Georgics cultivating, foraging, and gathering of mushrooms, these activities, like beekeeping and farming, embody enduring georgic values of rugged curiosity and dogged resilience. As the fruit of mycelial networks, lyrical mushrooms (re)distribute violence across agricultural interconnection, to span specificity and outward scope. As a result, the mushroom becomes a ‘companion species’ capable of assuming the role of co-teacher and co-imparter of knowledge to a poet-as-observer in awe of its ingenuity.
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