Neil Corcoran

Neil Corcoran lectures in English at Sheffield University. His books include a study of David Jones and Seamus Heaney.


An Anxiety of Its Own

19 November 2020

Tobias Gregory writes that Harold Bloom sees Shakespeare as ‘the poet who transcended all anxiety of influence’ (LRB, 19 November). It’s worth recalling that the first edition of The Anxiety of Influence pays scant attention to Shakespeare, understanding literary history from Homer to Shakespeare as a form of prelapsarian ‘generous’ influence. Anxiety was then, for Bloom, a post-Enlightenment...


8 October 2014

Mary-Kay Wilmers ascribes to Karl Miller the opinion that comparing Graves with Wordsworth or Rilke is ‘comparing a rearrangement of the room with a subsidence of continents’ (LRB, 9 October). In fact this was Randall Jarrell’s view in The Third Book of Criticism, where he is offering it as a qualification of his very high estimate of Graves. Such a motive has always seemed to me the only reason...

Davie’s Rap

Neil Corcoran, 25 January 1990

One of the finest things in Donald Davie’s Under Briggflatts is a sustained, learned and densely implicative comparison of two poems about horses: Edwin Muir’s well-known, post-Apocalypse poem ‘The Horses’ and Austin Clarke’s much less familiar ‘Forget me not’, a poem written out of Clarke’s angry response to the Irish trade in horse meat in the 1950s. Although generously receptive to both, Davie comes out decisively in favour of the historical rootedness, specificity and consequent stylistic bristle and speed of the Clarke against the ahistorical, symbolist stasis of the Muir, identified as the mode of ‘mythopoeia’. As the argument develops, however, Davie reaches a startling conclusion: both poems are dependent on a conception of the ‘horse’, and therefore on a conception of ‘man’ (since the domesticated horse has significance only in relation to human beings), which share a ‘belief in the sacred’. Muir’s horses clearly represent the emergence of the possibility of some new post-holocaust inter-relationship between man and animal (and therefore suggest what an ideal present relationship might be); Clarke’s vituperative disgust with Irish mercenariness, and his elaborate poetic campaign of moral re-education, would be pointless if the horse were only a farmyard animal. Even though the poems are as far apart in tone as it is possible to conceive – the Muir all rapt and visionary, the Clarke sardonic and declamatory – both bear witness ‘that every poet’s task is ultimately and essentially religious; and that it is dangerous for any poet to think otherwise.’’



28 September 1989

Having written about David Jones and Seamus Heaney, I of course think poets have the right to send readers to dictionaries (Letters, 26 October 1989, 23 November 1989, 7 December 1989). But readers must feel the journey is worthwhile, not merely as an element in self-improvement but as an aid to critical appreciation. Jones’s dictionary diction always, in my view, enforces a sense of his punctilio...

Neil Corcoran confronts the new recklessness

Neil Corcoran, 28 September 1989

For a writer who several years ago published a ‘Manifesto Against Manifestoes’, James Fenton has published his fair share of manifestoes, including a disguised one for a ‘Martian school’ to which he did not belong. The latest, ‘Manila Manifesto’, comes as part of a package with his new book Manila Envelope. To acquire the book, you must write to Manila, and it will be posted to you in a manila envelope stamped ‘Contents: Poetry’; the manifesto itself is printed on manila paper. This visual and verbal punning puts me in mind of Frank O’Connor’s account of a picture he saw in Joyce’s Paris flat: the city of Cork in a cork frame. An instance, no doubt, of Joyce’s compulsive punning, the picture can also be viewed as the manifestation of an ambiguous attitude. The visual pun depreciates the city of Joyce’s forebears, suggesting the voluntary exile’s self-justifying, cosmopolitan hauteur: but it also cherishes the place. James Fenton’s joky, vaguely self-indulgent punning on place, paper and title also indicates a more than merely joky intent. A manila envelope made in and posted from a Manila recently under the control of Marcos may contain an explosive device, particularly if the cover of the book it ostensibly contains has a savage Nicholas Garland illustration of a wild horseman wielding a bloody scimitar, surrounded by the decapitated victims of his havoc.

Hand and Foot: Seamus Heaney

John Kerrigan, 27 May 1999

When Seamus Heaney left Belfast in 1972, to work as a freelance writer in the relative safety of the Republic, Northern Ireland was a war zone. Internment and Bloody Sunday had recruited so many...

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