Derek Mahon

Derek Mahon’s Collected Poems were published by the Gallery Press in 1999. A Selected Poems came out from Penguin last year.

Poem: ‘Resistance Days’

Derek Mahon, 25 April 2002

for John Minihan

Nous nous aimerons tous et nos enfants riront De la légende noire où pleure un solitaire.

Paul Eluard

The sort of snailmail that can take a week but suits my method, pre-informatique, I write this from the St Louis, rm 14 – or type it, rather, on the old machine, a portable, that I take when I migrate in ‘the run-up to Christmas’. Here I sit...

Poem: ‘New Wave’

Derek Mahon, 5 April 2001

On the first day of principal photography they sit outside at a St Germain café with a coffee pot between them on a round table of chequered oilcloth red and grey. The hand-held camera looks for natural light, mikes pick up traffic and incidental sound. A mid-week noon and the hot bridges sweat; from ice buckets, from windows, watches, knives life flashes back at them their glittering...

Poem: ‘Pygmalion’

Derek Mahon, 27 January 1994

(Ovid, Metamorphoses, X, 243-277)

... Pygmalion watched these women, hard- featured and cynical, as they led their shameful lives and, sickened by the wickedness so generously given to their sex, he lived alone without a wife to call his own. Meanwhile, ingeniously, he wrought a maiden out of ivory, one lovelier than any woman born, and with this shape he fell in love. Alive, she seemed, and...

Poem: ‘Songs of Praise’

Derek Mahon, 18 December 1980

Tonight, their simple church grown glamorous, The proud parishioners of the outlying parts Lift up their hymn-books and their hearts To please the outside-broadcast cameras. The darkness deepens; day draws to a close; A well-bred sixth-former yawns with her nose.

Outside, the hymn dies among rocks and dunes. Conflicting rhythms of the incurious sea, Not even contemptuous of these tiny tunes,...

Long Goodbye

Derek Mahon, 20 November 1980

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:

Men at forty

Derek Mahon, 21 August 1980

The first poem by Donald Justice I ever read was the much anthologised sestina, ‘Here in Katmandu’:

Poem: ‘Table Talk’

Derek Mahon, 3 July 1980

You think I am your servant but you are wrong. The service lies with you. During your long Labours at me, I am the indulgent wood, Tolerant of your painstaking ineptitude. Your poems were torn from me by violence; I am here to receive your homage in dark silence.

Remembering the chain-saw surgery and the seaward groan, Like a bound and goaded exodus from Babylon, I pray for a wood-spirit to...

Accessibility

Derek Mahon, 5 June 1980

It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I have taken the full measure, or anything like it, of Middleton’s Carminalenia, an intensely difficult collection about as far removed from ‘mainstream’ English poetry as it’s possible to be and yet remain, in part at least, accessible. I say ‘in part at least’, but the fact is that Middleton, to me at any rate, is more often inaccessible than not. There are notes, but the help they offer is slight. He has, of course, always been an ‘experimental’ poet, in that he has eschewed predictable patterns of thought and structure. He offers the reader little technical consolation – almost, it seems, as a matter of policy; and no doubt there is much to be said for this. Yet it would be a mistake to conclude, as philistine critics used to do of ‘modern’ art, that he doesn’t produce well-made poems because he can’t. On the contrary, one has the distinct sense that here is a poet who has chosen to write in his own peculiar, even rebarbative way because an inner poetic logic demands that he do so. It goes without saying that his oblique and perhaps innovative purposes are to be taken entirely seriously – though I’m happy to report that a flickering and elusive sense of fun, as of a preoccupied man suppressing manic laughter, makes an occasional and intriguing appearance.

Perish the thought: Derek Mahon

John Redmond, 8 February 2001

In his undergraduate days at Trinity College Dublin in the early 1960s, Derek Mahon cast a spell over his contemporaries, as he would cast a spell over his early readers. He had wit, taste and a...

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Everything is susceptible

Douglas Dunn, 20 March 1980

Derek Mahon’s Poems 1962 – 1978 includes most of his three earlier books, to which he has added a few uncollected poems and about 35 pages of new work. Readers will discover that...

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