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This review is taken from PN Review 140, Volume 27 Number 6, July - August 2001.

WASHED ASHORE ANDREW McNEILLIE, Nevermore (Carcanet/Oxford Poets) £6.95

The epigraph to this book's longest poem, 'Lines from an Aran Journal', comes from Hopkins, and gives a fair clue to some of Andrew McNeillie's preoccupations in Nevermore: 'I am in Ireland now; now I am at a third / Remove'. McNeillie's first collection explores a variety of removals - temporal and geographical, cultural and biographical - but never sentimentally; instead we find vigorous and searching poems that are inward and reflective while remaining true to their occasions and to the people and locations they remember. McNeillie's settings are the Celtic landscapes of Wales, Ireland, Scotland. Fragments of their ancient languages (he calls Scots his 'lost lexicon') flash before us in isolated words and phrases - the name of a ship Naomh Eanna, the Welsh for bird, Aderyn but it is also their contemporary richness that the poems celebrate, and their living contexts. Though loss is one of McNeillie's themes, another - and equally insistent - is the hardiness and tenacity of these marginal or marginalised cultures. They do not disappear, but grip miraculuously on to their land, their languages and their ways of life.

These Irish and Welsh landscapes are often isolated, unmerciful or craggy: the shoe-ripping Aran ground, the sparse North Welsh hills, horizons empty of any living thing but birds, perhaps the book's most frequently-observed inhabitants. Though McNeillie notes that for Plato the aviary was a figure for the questing mind, McNeillie's are real birds as well: flapping and feathery and raucous, and ...


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