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This review is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.

Cover of Angel Hill
MaitreyabandhuThe Lyric Protest: Take Two

Michael Longley, Angel Hill (Cape Poetry) £10.00
‘Poetry is shrinking almost to its bones’, writes seventy-seven-year-old poet Michael Longley in ‘Age’, a short poem among short poems near the end of this his tenth collection (excluding a Selected and Collected), Angel Hill. The new book, shortlisted for the Forward Prize, was published days before he was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize for ‘unflinching’ work of ‘fierce intellectual determination’.

There is a challenge for both poet and reader when a poet’s reputation, like Longley’s, is so unquestionably high. Does the poet revisit life-long preoccupations (as Heaney did) or should he reinvent himself à la MacNeice? And can we, as readers, weigh the value of the poems in front of us without being prejudiced (positively or negatively) by the poet’s weighty reputation? What, exactly, should we expect from a poet of Longley’s stature – new excursions or old roads?

Angel Hill, like Longley’s two other post-Collected collections, opts for revisiting themes. Again there are his birds – barnacle geese, whooper swans, sanderlings and oystercatchers; his flowers – sea asters, cowslips, harebell; his otters and badgers; his wonderful donkeys. Again his love poems; his family/grandfatherly poems; his boy soldier war poems. Again his poetics of place – Carrigskeewaun, ‘Bracken-rusty Angel Hill’; his painting poems; his poetry poems (Mahon insisting in ‘Menu’ that ‘Proper soup has leeks and barley in it’). Again the pitch-perfect quatrain. Again the how-does-he-do-it concentrated lyric: ‘Nosegay’, ‘The Troubles’.

At first glance I was disappointed. I wanted a big breakout or an unlikely return – to his ‘Mayo Monologues’ perhaps, ...

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