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This review is taken from PN Review 142, Volume 28 Number 2, November - December 2001.

LYRICAL PARTS JOHN MONTAGUE, Selected Poems (Penguin) £8.99
JOHN MONTAGUE, Company: A Chosen Life (Duckworth) £14.99

At the close of the prologue to his engaging memoir, Company, John Montague recounts a dream in which he is handed a weighty ring of Yeats's by the poet's widow, George: a legacy or bequest of sorts he terms 'a responsibility but not an oppressive one'. This fragment of dream-symbolism can be related to the ambiguous subtitle of this selective account of the poetic vocation, as Montague's reminiscences of his early manhood in Dublin, Paris and Berkeley dovetail with an impressionistic survey of Irish literary culture in the 1950s and 1960s. There are sympathetic portraits of, among others, Brendan Behan ('the only trilingual bisexual I have ever met') and Theodore Roethke; an amusing vignette of Samuel Beckett; and indispensable recollections of Montague's role in the formation of Garech Browne's Claddagh Records and in the publishing history of Liam Miller's Dolmen Press.

More modest in design than Yeats's Autobiographies, and less gossipy than George Moore's Hail and Farewell (to which Company's prologue alludes), Montague's reminiscences are nevertheless equally crafted. Thus, Montague's friendship with George Yeats is counterpointed by his distance from Maud Gonne, who is portrayed, in old age, as having come to embody the role of the politically iconic crone she played in Yeats's Cathleen ni Houlihan. Montague's relative coolness towards Gonne is richly suggestive of his resistance to narrowly nationalist writing and thought, as developed in his key 1973 essay, 'The Impact of International Modern Poetry on Irish Writing'. Company is especially revealing in its depiction ...


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