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This review is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

A MONUMENTAL TASK An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry, edited by Wes Davis (Harvard University Press) £21.95

Spare a thought for the effort Wes Davis must have put into editing this anthology: there are about nine hundred pages of poetry by more than fifty poets, chronologically arranged by date of birth, the oldest born in 1881, and the youngest ninety-one years later. The extreme length of Davis’s book arises from his wish to give each poet plenty of page-space, and the poems – particularly those by more recent authors – have apparently been selected with the greatest attention to detail. As he notes in the preface:

The earliest poets in the collection […] are represented primarily by the kinds of poems that have stuck in the minds of later writers. On the other hand, my goal in selecting work from poets who are still writing – the bulk of the collection – was to show the range of their styles and interests. This meant including greatest hits where appropriate, but favoring less familiar poems when those reveal unexpected sides of well-known poets.

Moreover, the section for each poet is introduced with a short and well-informed biographical-critical essay. Researching and compiling this book as conscientiously as Davis has undoubtedly done must have been a monumental task, and as a feat of scholarship crossed with editorial attentiveness and acumen it would a seem hard to beat. Indeed there is no other volume of modern Irish poetry to match it either for bulk or erudition.

In terms of Irish nationalism, a ...

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