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'A twisted root'

by
June 2010, issue no. 322

An Anthology Of Modern Irish Poetry edited by Wes Davis

Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $59.95 hb, 600 pp

'A twisted root'

by
June 2010, issue no. 322

For W.B. Yeats, Ireland was the place and source of poetry, even when he was living in Oxford or London. It was also a mythical figure, enabling of ardour and of song, the desirable ‘Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan’; and it became a delicately evocative crepuscule, mocked by Brendan Kennelly when he opens a poem with ‘Now in the Celtic twilight decrepit whores / Prowl warily along the Grand Canal’. The very phrase ‘Irish poetry’ sounds like a pleonasm. For that moist country has long seemed synonymous with verse and folksong: just as Holland is synonymous with painting and France with elegant thought. Further, when I think of contemporary poets in our widespread language, Seamus Heaney must surely be the dominant world figure and Paul Muldoon the most verbally dazzling, even if our Les is close to Paul in this caper.

No poem in this book is stronger than Muldoon’s elegy ‘Incantata’, which succeeds in combining deep feeling with a huge cultural vocabulary; the poem chimes like a great bell that also has access to Google. But it was Muldoon who once said on Radio Ulster, ‘Anyone who makes an anthology is almost certifiably mad.’ What-ever the truth of that, we have a new putative madman on the scene, thank goodness. A Yale man, however, and published by Harvard.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe reviews 'An Anthology Of Modern Irish Poetry' edited by Wes Davis

An Anthology Of Modern Irish Poetry

edited by Wes Davis

Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $59.95 hb, 600 pp

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