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PN Review 276
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This article is taken from PN Review 276, Volume 50 Number 4, March - April 2024.

on Vinegar Hill Patrick McGuinness
This was written as the preface for the Italian edition of Vinegar Hill,
to be published by Interno Poesia

It ought to be more difficult for one of today’s finest novelists to make the transition into poetry. Where plenty of poets write novels – hence the ambiguous (and often ambivalently-meant) phrase, ‘a poet’s novel’ – there is no corresponding category of ‘novelist’s poem’. The skills of poetry and fiction are not held to be especially transferable, though anyone who has attempted both (from either side of the divide) knows that poems do contain narrative – even if it is ‘just’ the narrative of an emotion over time, or the unfolding of a metaphor across lines – while novels contain plenty of the sorts of things that make poetry, well…, poetic. On the evidence of Colm Tóibín’s first book of poems, more novelists should explore the possibilities of poetry.

For a first collection of poems, albeit by an author who is no newcomer to writing, Vinegar Hill is a substantial and diverse book, and one that feels fully formed. This is poetry that has been, so to speak, lived. It has been allowed to grow, to expand, to test out different narrative and lyric possibilities. What is also clear, from its formal range and its sense of the line, is that Tóibín reads a lot of poetry. It is a book full of variety – of tone, of subject, of time and place and form – and it is a book that speaks of the present even as it understands the ways in which history, ...

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