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This review is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

FAMILY MATTERS DEREK MAHON, The Hudson Letter (Oldcastle, Co. Meath: The Gallery Press) IR£6.95
FRANK ORMSBY, The Ghost Train (Oldcastle, Co. Meath: The Gallery Press) IR£5.95

With the publication of his Selected Poems in 1990 it became obvious, at least to those who hadn't heard already, that Derek Mahon was one of the most important poets writing in English. A master of the short lyric, capable of combining wit and sophistication with open lament for the planet, Mahon had created an œuvre that was unassailable. Nevertheless the question left in the minds of his admirers in 1990 was: what next? The last full-length collection had been The Hunt by Night (1982), and even the edition of the Selected Poems itself had a kind of closure which suggested that the author could not continue in this vein, that something had to give. And now, at last, we have his first full-length collection in thirteen years, The Hudson Letter.

The title poem of the book, in eighteen sections and over 1,000 lines, has two main themes: Mahon's own loss of nerve as a writer and the homeless people of the world. These come together in section II which has Mahon sitting at night in his New York apartment, like Rilke at Muzot, waiting for something to happen. He has just made his coffee and listened to the news when interrupted by the voice of 'some psycho/[who] sends up a stream of picturesque abuse' from the street below.

As the poem progresses from this point, Mahon and his readers realise that this interuption is fortuitous, that the poet, by letting the voices of the ...


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