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This review is taken from PN Review 118, Volume 24 Number 2, November - December 1997.

OFFERING TERMS THOMAS H. JACKSON, The Whole Matter: The Poetic Evolution of Thomas Kinsella (Syracuse University Press)
BRIAN JOHN, Reading the Ground: The Poetry of Thomas Kinsella (Catholic University of America Press) $44.95/£40.50

In review of his Collected Poems published last year, Harry Clifton said that somewhere in the early 1970s Thomas Kinsella took a wrong turn. Either that, or critical attention did, as in many people's minds Kinsella is no longer considered the foremost Irish poet. Here now to correct the situation are two critics, both based in America and both convinced that Kinsella's neglect is more a reflection of unexacting critical standards than of any faults in the poetry. Their tone is often defensive as they know that many readers and critics lost patience with him long ago. However, their books, while they will prove useful to future scholars who wish to map out the dark and difficult territory of his poems, are unlikely to make any converts, or precipitate the kind of revaluation of recent Irish poetry that would boost Kinsella's reputation.

Published within a year of each other, they are the first full-length considerations of Kinsella's career since 1974. Jackson's is the shorter book and its strengths lie in the readings of the work of the 1960s, especially poems like 'Phoenix Park' and 'Nightwalker' and the many-times revised 'Downstream' which mark the end of the Kinsella who could be easily adopted into the English Movement. In contrast with this, his considerations of the Peppercanister Poems, arguably where critical exegesis is most needed, are too brief to be of any real help to the reader. This is where John's book is better, as he explains the many ...


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