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This review is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

A Way of Happening neil corcoran, Poetry & Responsibility (Liverpool University Press) £70

In 1914 W.B. Yeats published a collection entitled Responsibilities. It was introduced with the now famous epigraph: ‘In dreams begins responsibility’. Neil Corcoran’s extensive spread of essays is presented in three untitled parts. The first focuses on Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and the more explicitly concrete responsibilities of war, and then the figure of Hamlet in Pasternak, Robert Lowell and Zbigniew Herbert. The second part looks at Yeats, Heaney, MacNeice and Muldoon in discussions of intertextuality, influence and critical responsibility. In the third part, Corcoran considers O’Hara’s subversive irresponsibility (‘[O]ur responsibilities did not begin / in dreams, though they began in bed’), coupled with essays on Ted Hughes’ prose, Bob Dylan’s reflexive responsibility to his own body of work and, in the last chapter, Christopher Logue, Anne Carson and David Jones. The introduction, beginning with the quotation from Yeats as a point of departure, intriguingly constructs the basis of Corcoran’s study in terms of how we might define poetic responsibility – political, social, sexual, textual, critical and literary. Resonating with John Redmond’s Poetry and Privacy, in which critical reception is challenged for its artificial packaging (or contorting) of poetry in order to enact virtuous conveniences of public responsibility, Corcoran is concerned primarily with what poetry intentionally takes as its ‘responsibility’. Beyond Marianne Moore’s assertion of poetry as ‘all this fiddle’ and Auden’s over-quoted (and usually under-­contextualised) ‘poetry makes nothing happen’, where does responsibility begin? Following Auden, Corcoran suggests (and to contextualise that too-often misrepresented line) that ‘it survives / In the valley of ...


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