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This article is taken from PN Review 268, Volume 49 Number 2, November - December 2022.

An Intonation of Place
A Poetic Journey with John McGahern and Alistair MacLeod
Ágnes Cserháti
At the Belfast Festival in 1968, John McGahern began his lecture, ‘I am only interested in poetry, which occurs more often in verse than in prose’. Among the audience were Tyrone Guthrie, Sean O’Riada, John Montague and Seamus Heaney. McGahern had published The Dark three years before to uproar and censorship. He was cast out from his teaching job. He left Ireland. He went back. Was he openly declaring himself a poet? And among such eminent compatriots?

To answer this question, I can only go a circuitous route and as far back as 2000, when as a postgraduate based in London, I travelled all over. In October, it was a four-day trek in Pembrokeshire. Hiking boots, a backpack with a change of clothes, and two cameras (one with colour film, the other with black and white), were all that I carried with me. There was hardly anyone along the coast path, and with every image captured through my lens, a burgeoning sense of self emerged. It was invigorating. Yet elusive. There was something other apparent as I stood beside Carreg Samson, my hand warmed by the capstone, or at Whitesands Bay, watching a track of woad get pushed along the shoreline. Unmistakeably, this was bard country. But what did that mean? It happened, too, later that winter, alone at the Rocks of Solitude as I touched the cold, wet wall of rock and traced my fingers along the gryke, then made my way back over Gannochy Bridge with the intrepid River Esk surging below, and through a forest of birch and pines where ...


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