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Romance Options, The Introduction

Leeanne Quinn and Joseph Woods introduce Romance Options: Love Poems for Today, their life- and love-affirming anthology of new Irish love poems, published by Dedalus Press in 2022

WHEN WE WERE INVITED by Dedalus Press last autumn to take on the task of editing an Ireland-based anthology of contemporary love poetry, there was a resounding ‘Yes’ from both of us. Frank Ormsby’s The Long Embrace: Twentieth Century Irish Love Poems initially came to mind when first thinking about extant love poetry from Ireland. Published some thirty-five years ago it features an expansive selection of love poems ranging from Yeats to Ní Chuilleanáin. While still a fine selection, we wondered what had changed in the intervening years in terms of love and its expression in poetic form. We wondered also to what extent contemporary poets were still writing about love? In a time of social and political upheaval, and environmental crisis, was there still a space for romantic love in contemporary poetry? And, if so, what did this space look like? It was time to look at one of poetry’s most established themes with fresh eyes, to see what 21st century poetry would make of love amidst the landmark changes that have taken place over the past few decades.

The most obvious change to Irish society in recent years has been the continued separation of church and state, the move to a society that no longer polices the romantic and intimate lives of its citizens. While Ireland is still recovering from the trauma of this policing, the changes we’ve seen in recent years, from the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015 to the successful repealing of the eight amendment in the referendum of 2018, confirm the extent to which our bodies and our intimate lives are becoming just that: our bodies, our intimate lives. Coinciding with these political changes are the enormous changes witnessed in terms of the prevalence of technology and social media in our daily lives. The ways in which we seek out love are intimately tied to the ways in which we now communicate socially.

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This anthology was compiled via an open call that itself served two main purposes. We hoped that an open call would be precisely that – an attempt to democratise the often opaque and exclusionary world of poetry anthologies. The decision not to draw upon the extant love poetry of the Irish canon was thus a deliberate one: an open call of this kind appeals to the here and now, and creates a snapshot of the response of contemporary poets to one of the oldest themes. The considerable response to the call – from new, emerging, and established poets alike – suggests that any doubts about the validity of romantic love as an adequate and pressing subject for poetry today were unfounded. Poets are still writing about love. Lover and beloved still very much traverse the lines of the contemporary poem.

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The poems in this anthology, in their diversity and range, show us what love in the 21st century is and can be about. The anthology’s title was inspired by poems from two of our contributors, Eva Griffin and Mícheál McCann. Both poems are titled ‘Romance Option’ and carry dedications to the other’s author. The poems take place in non-tangible landscapes, in virtual gaming environments where romance and intimacy still follow established real-world patterns of quest and pursuit. There’s a vulnerability to the poems, as longing and desire persist in solitude, and the term ‘Romance Option’ comes to suggest something of the complex economics of love and intimate relationships in today’s society. We loved the idea of two poets speaking to each other across the anthology. We pluralised the term not only to expand upon its original context, but to convey the multiplicity of experience reflected in these pages.

While we want the poems here to speak for themselves, taken together they present a cross-section of the core concerns of the 21st century love poem, with poems of desire, of the body, of compromise, of satisfaction, of dissatisfaction. The poems here speak of language, its adequacies and inadequacies as a medium for the expression of love. They speak of loss and gain, of joy, of celebration. They speak of community, of identity. They speak of the past, of the present, and of the future. In short, these poems speak of love, and, in these challenging times for so many, in defence of love.

— LQ & JW