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This review is taken from PN Review 208, Volume 39 Number 2, November - December 2012.

A Poet on the Move Incorrigibly Plural: Louis MacNeice and his Legacy, edited by Fran Brearton and Edna Longley (Carcanet) £17.05

Academic critical estimates of Louis MacNeice's reputation still lag behind the influence that his poet-readers have recorded. Philip Larkin and the Northern Irish poets Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon and Michael Longley have long reckoned the impact of his work, and more recently, MacNeice has seemed to be the 'secret key' to understanding the generation of poets that includes Don Paterson and Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and Paul Farley, Ciaran Carson and Michael Donaghy, and younger Irish poets including Conor O'Callaghan, Leontia Flynn and Alan Gillis, all of whom have acknowledged MacNeice's example in their poems and prose. The lag between his academic impact and the fact of MacNeice's influence remains in place in this valuable set of essays, but the gap is smaller now than it has ever been.

Many of the essays advance on Jon Stallworthy's 1995 biography, drawing on Peter McDonald's new edition of the poems and Jonathan Allison's edition of the letters. The book importantly contributes new biographical material, in particular a harrowing and moving memoir by MacNeice's son Dan of his difficult childhood and relation to his father, stepmother and extended family: on his father's early death, he recalls 'collect[ing] all the obituaries from Time and the New York Times, etc, to try and get a line on how to value it, but never develop[ing] a purely private reaction to it', which attests to the personal cost of the split allegiances which drive MacNeice's poems and to the difficulty, for anyone, of ...


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