Does Northern Ireland need `identity'? Does it make sense to discuss politics and literature in such terms? And what does it mean to make a connection between poetry and violence? In this controversial and original study, the Northern Irish poet and critic Peter McDonald examines the poetry of Seamus Heaney, along with work by Louis MacNeice, John Hewitt, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Tom Paulin, Ciaran Carson, Paul Muldoon, and others. He argues against the
totalizing ambitions of identity-politics, and questions the value of nationalist assumptions, amongst both Irish and non-Irish critics, for the understanding of Northern Irish poetry. McDonald contends that a close attention to this poetry disables crude analysis and subverts political analogies in
terms of `identity'. In a series of subtle and illuminating readings, Mistaken Identities shows how the best poets from Northern Ireland have made an issue of poetic form, and establishes the significance of this for post-nationalist criticism on both sides of the Irish Sea.
`lucid, careful and diplomatic study of poetry and Northern Ireland ... there is much to applaud in McDonald's explication of the theme of 'identity' and the assertions which pepper his own narrative should find critical consent. ... Mercifully Peter McDonald is concerned with the real thing and has the scholarly and intellectual commitment to engage with poetry and its ideological vortex without disappearing through the looking-glass of theory in extremis.
Mistaken Identities rightly lives protectively among the poems of those the critic admires while keeping a close eye on the politics of those he finds loitering with intent. This is an important book to
Fortnight, no.364, September 1997
`McDonald's criticism is informed by an active engagement with Northern Ireland and with poetry.'
The Times Higher Education Supplement
`interesting, wide-ranging and tetchy study ... Certainly this book, though it fans an important debate about the politics of 'identity', finds its major strengths in the little decentred details of style and cultural nuance which its author, an always astute and at his best a super-sensitive reader of poetry, succeeds in teasing out.'
Stan Smith, Irish Studies Review, Vol 7 No 3 1999