Tom Paulin (a good modern Irish poet)
donaloc at peterquinn.com
Fri Nov 22 03:12:48 MST 2002
I always liked Tom Paulin's poetry. There's something very gritty and real
about it. I know it's a long way from the dreamy Irish poetry of Yeats but
perhaps that's how our society has changed. I knew that he was Republican
(rare for a Protestant) but now respect him even more.
I was going to post this a few days ago but I felt as if I'd already posted
Harvard University's withdrawal of a speaking invitation to the poet Tom
Paulin after he allegedly made anti-Israeli comments again throws the
spotlight on the outspoken academic and critic. [This 'fatwa' has since been
The fault-lines which define Tom Paulin are there for all to see.
Although to many he is the archetypal Irish writer, he was actually born in
England. An Ulster Protestant by tradition, he is an Irish republican by
A fully paid up member of the Awkward Squad and a determined iconoclast, he
holds a lectureship at that jewel in the crown of the British Establishment,
Feisty, combative, some would say rebarbative, his appearances on Newsnight
Review - and the Late Review which it replaced - have brought him cult
status among the chattering classes. He is, as one wag puts it, the thinking
man's thinking man.
But Paulin's reputation, resting as much on his status as a media star as on
his poetry, has been somewhat tarnished of late.
In an interview with the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Akram, published in April,
he allegedly called for US-born Israeli settlers to be killed.
And he reportedly also said of the settlers: "They are Nazis, racist. I feel
nothing but hatred for them."
Now there are demands from some quarters that Paulin is prosecuted for
uttering these views. And it seems that, in part at least, the American
academic establishment has decreed him persona non grata.
Paulin's retort, that he was "a lifelong opponent of anti-Semitism" and that
he did "not support attacks on Israeli citizens under any circumstances",
appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Thomas Neilson Paulin was born in Leeds in 1949. The son of a Northern Irish
mother and an English father, he moved to Belfast as a child and was brought
up near the more genteel end of the city's Ormeau Road.
His parents, a headmaster and a doctor, held "vaguely socialist liberal
ideas," according to Paulin.
As a child, he was immersed in books - his house having no television - and
that singularly Irish love of poetry was soon awakened.
His first academic post was at Nottingham University. He still looks back on
this time with great anger.
"There were lecturers saying the literary canon is an oppressive imperialist
tool designed to annihilate the British working class," he recently told one
"You know, the British working class liberated itself by studying English
But, compensating for the disappointments of his academic career, was his
As much a child of "the Troubles" as Seamus Heaney, Paulin began to write,
in that deceptively direct manner which has become his trademark, of recent
Here, in an early example of his work, Paulin reflects on rebellion and
"Night landings on the Antrim coast, the movement of guns now snug in their
oiled paper below the floors, a judge shot in his hallway before his
daughter, a hemp noose over a greased trap."
The filming of Bloody Sunday
On another occasion, discussing two television dramas concerning deaths of
13 Irish civilians on Bloody Sunday, he went even further.
After dismissing [Germaine] Greer's views as "rubbish", Paulin went on to
say that the British paratroopers on duty that day were "thugs sent in by
public schoolboys to kill innocent Irish people. They were rotten, racist,
Paulin's wife is of Sikh extraction, and he wears his anti-racist
credentials on his sleeve.
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