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This review is taken from PN Review 148, Volume 29 Number 2, November - December 2002.


Only a matter of months before his death Michael Hartnett had arranged with Peter Fallon, the editor of Gallery Press, to publish his Collected Poems (2001). However, Collected Poems as Fallon's editorial note suggests, might be more accurately titled 'Collected Poems in English', as this volume represents a selection from Hartnett's life's work, the first of a trilogy in 'Gallery's Hartnett "programme"'. There is to be a book of translations and A Book of Strays, a collection of ballads, satires and other occasional poems and this selection gives some sense of shape to Hartnett's chaotic publishing history, for his aleatoric dating of poems was indicative of his creativity as a poet.

Part of Hartnett's inventiveness as a poet was to 'refuse to have what is known in the trade as a 'coherent metaphysics' (Poetry Ireland Review, Autumn, 1987). Should Hartnett's claim be believed, Collected Poems might then be described as being rebelliously, if not ambitiously, incoherent: this is not to say that the poetry is unsophisticated. One need only look at Hartnett's eclectic reading to see what has informed the writing, Taoist philosophy, the early poems of Lorca, the Gaelic poets of Munster, translations of Ferenc Juhasz's long poem 'The Boy Changed into a Stag Cries out at the Gate of Secrets'; he loved but eventually jilted 'poets from Wyatt... / to Father Hopkins', while having, what might be called a connoisseur's distaste for 'Chef Yeats' and his 'celebrated Anglo-Irish stew'. So for a review to map-out ...

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