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Michael Wood, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen – 20 Nov

20th November 2019 @ 18:00 - 20:00 UTC

The Irish Literary Society is delighted to announce that the speaker for this year’s Annual Yeats Lecture will be Professor Michael Wood. Drawing on his book Yeats and Violence (2010) Professor Wood reflects on how poetry, seen through the instance of a single poem, seeks to make sense of a turbulent and dangerous world. Poetry must introduce order and shape where there is none, and also, in certain crucial cases, remain faithful to the disorder and shapelessness of experience. Many poems manage the first of these tasks; very few manage both. W.B. Yeats ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ (written and first published in 1921) is one of them. It is a work which asks what happens when what is taken to be civilisation crumbles. What apocalyptic events wait in the wings? What are history’s victims (and executors) to do except mock and mourn? One hundred years on from the historical setting of the poem we have asked Wood to consider the poem in its historical context and its place in Yeats’ work. Wood will then join our Vice President, Roy Foster, in conversation and the poet Martina Evans will offer a poem, commissioned for this event, in response to Yeats’ work.

“The appeal to the dream has all kinds of echoes in Yeats…we might think the dream justifies the dreamer, since that is part of the argument of ‘Easter 1916’, and this is the argument the speaker of ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ helplessly gestures towards: ‘We know their dream,’ the earlier poem says, ‘enough/To know they dreamed and are dead.’ This particular dream had its price, even apart from the death of the dreamers. It turned hearts to stone, it was part of the old myth of sacrifice Yeats himself used to be so eloquent about.”

Wood’s criticism is exuberantly characterful, adventurous in its scholarship, and greedily, giddily speculative.

Leo Robson, New Statesman


Speaker: Professor Michael Wood
Professor Michael Wood

Michael Wood was born and educated in England but has worked for much of his life in the United States, first at Columbia University and then at Princeton. He has written books on Luis Buñuel, Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov, and Gabriel García Márquez, as well as The Road to Delphi, a study of the ancient and continuing allure of oracles. Among his other works are America in the Movies and Children of Silence. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a member of the American Philosophical Society and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. Selected Works: Stendhal (1971); America in the Movies (1975, 1989); The Magician’s Doubts: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction (1994); Children of Silence: on Contemporary Fiction (1998); The Road to Delphi: the Life and Afterlife of Oracles (2003); Literature and the Taste of Knowledge (2005) and Yeats and Violence (2010).


Speaker: Martina Evans
Martina Evans

Martina Evans is a poet, novelist and teacher. She grew up in County Cork in a country pub, shop and petrol station and is the youngest of ten children. She is the author of ten books of prose and poetry. She is currently Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University, London and a Lector for the Royal Literary Reading Round 2014-2016. Watch, a pamphlet was published by Rack Press in January 2016 and The Windows of Graceland, New & Selected Poems was published by Carcanet in May 2016. Her latest collection Now We Can Talk Openly About Men was published by Carcanet in May 2018. It featured in the Times Literary Supplement, Observer and Irish Times Books of the Year and has been shortlisted for the 2019 Irish Times Poetry Now Award as well as the Pigott Poetry Award. Currently she is Royal Literary Fund Advisory Fellow and poetry reviewer for the Irish Times.


Speaker: Professor Roy Foster
Roy Foster Roy Foster recently retired as Carroll Professor of Irish history at Oxford, he is a fellow of Hertford College. He has written widely on Irish history, society and politics in the modern period, as well as on Victorian high politics and culture. Foster produced a widely acclaimed biography of William Butler Yeats which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In Words Alone: Yeats and his inheritances (2011), he presents a re-reading of Irish literary history throughout the nineteenth century and places Yeats and his inspirations in apposition to a much wider range of literary and political precursors than is usually the case. His most recent book is Vivid Faces: the revolutionary generation in Ireland 1890-1914.

Image above shows detail from Jack B Yeats’ Something in the Air, 1948.


20th November 2019
18:00 - 20:00 UTC
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Irish Literary Society
The Embassy of Ireland


The Embassy of Ireland
17 Grosvenor Pl, London
London, SW1X 7HR
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