Long Goodbye

Derek Mahon

  • Why Brownlee left by Paul Muldoon
    Faber, 48 pp, £3.00, September 1980, ISBN 0 571 11592 6
  • Poems 1956-1973 by Thomas Kinsella
    Dolmen, 192 pp, £7.50, September 1980, ISBN 0 85105 365 3
  • Constantly Singing by James Simmons
    Blackstaff, 90 pp, £3.95, June 1980, ISBN 0 85640 217 6
  • A Part of Speech by Joseph Brodsky
    Oxford, 151 pp, £4.95, September 1980, ISBN 0 19 211939 7
  • Collected poems 1931-1974 by Lawrence Durrell
    Faber, 350 pp, £9.00, September 1980, ISBN 0 571 18009 4

Why Brownlee left is Paul Muldoon’s third book of poems, and his most interesting so far. Whereas, in the earlier books, he didn’t do a great deal more than exercise the quirky, oblique lyricism which has become his personal signature, he puts it here to the service of an idea, or complex of ideas, which constitutes a private poetry of departure. An ‘inner émigré’, in Seamus Heaney’s phrase, he proposes for himself, for his father, for a childhood neighbour, real or imagined disappearing acts. This is, from one point of view, another example of the time-honoured Irish instinct to get out (generally accompanied by an obsession with the abandoned isle); and, indeed, there is the merest hint of political exasperation in one or two poems. Or perhaps ‘exasperation’ is too positive, too recognisable an emotion to ascribe to Muldoon, whose characteristic posture is one of child-like wonder in the face of multiple possibility. There is no ‘plague on both your houses’ here, but a reticence born of an inability to take sides, as in ‘The Boundary Commission’, which I quote in full:

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