My Modest Proposal

Engraving from 1894 showing the Irish author, Jonathan Swift.

290 years after poet, cleric and satirist Jonathan Swift made what he called ‘A Modest Proposal’ to solve the problem of poverty in Ireland, six Irish poets – Jessica Traynor, Mary O’Malley, Kevin Higgins, Sarah Clancy, Rita Ann Higgins and Nick Laird – make their own modest proposals to tackle the social inequalities of today.

The programme was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 15th October 2019 at 11:30 and available to listen back online from Tuesday 15th October 2019 to Tuesday 12th November 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0009b34

In 1729 Jonathan Swift published (anonymously) his notorious work ‘A Modest Proposal’, suggesting that the problem of poverty in Ireland could be solved simply enough, by selling the babies of the poor to the wealthy as food. He wrote that, ‘A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled.’

Almost 300 years later, his outrageous satire still has the power to shock.

But what sort of modest proposal would today’s poets put forward?

In ‘My Modest Proposal’, Jessica Traynor suggests a way of dealing with violence against women that totally fails to address the root cause of the problem. Mary O’Malley gives us her proposal with a calm, measured delivery, which all sounds eminently reasonable until her proposal on how to deal with the elderly creeps up and grabs you by the throat. Sarah Clancy wonders what all the fuss is about, really, when a species or two goes extinct. Kevin Higgins helpfully outlines measures for the Minister for Housing to deal with homelessness, something which Kevin has experienced at first hand. Rita Ann Higgins despairs that people dealing with redress boards will ever be satisfied, and Nick Laird’s sinister poem reflects how social media has taken over our lives.

Expect black humour, a shake of the head in recognition, and a sigh of relief that and none of these proposals will ever actually be put into operation … or will they?

The words of Jonathan Swift are read by Andrew Bennett. Image of Jonathan Swift via Getty Images.

Producer: Julien Clancy

Executive Producer: Claire Cunningham

A Rockfinch production for BBC Radio 4.

Chosen as the Radio Moment of the Week in the Irish Times on Saturday 19th October 2019: