Everything is susceptible

Douglas Dunn

  • Poems 1962-1978 by Derek Mahon
    Oxford, 117 pp, £5.75, November 1979, ISBN 0 19 211898 6
  • The Echo Gate by Michael Longley
    Secker, 53 pp, £3.00, November 1979, ISBN 0 436 25680 0
  • Poets from the North of Ireland edited by Frank Ormsby
    Blackstaff, 232 pp, £6.50, October 1979, ISBN 0 85640 201 X

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 poems with which they thought themselves familiar have been retitled and in some cases extensively revised. Although precocious in that there are poems here which must have been written when Mahon was as young as 20 or 21, he looks as if he has been compensating for a lack of productivity by going over earlier work once again. Form and style in contemporary poetry are of course, highly contentious matters. There are celebrated poets who appear to have no idea about line-endings, who cannot shape a verse, or who sacrifice one aspect of poetry, usually rhythm, for the sake of emphasising another, most often visual imagery. Mahon is above so compartmentalised a notion of poetry. But his revisions suggest uncertainty as much as they do a growing maturity.

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