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This review is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.

MICHAEL HAMBURGER, From A Diary of Non-Events (Anvil) £7.95
HANS MAGNUS ENZENSBERGER, Lighter than Air, translated by David Constantine (Bloodaxe) £8.95

The deadpan humour of Dennis O'Driscoll's title poem reflects something of the tone of Exemplary Damages. `We love one another so much the slightest/ hurt cries out for compensation: sprain your/ ankle in a pothole and City Hall will pay/ exemplary damages for your pains.' Yet, even though O'Driscoll may question and be critical of contemporary attitudes towards life, the fact that these poems play with and pun on legal jargon and commercial language hints at how this poet and this collection seems both intrigued and repelled by present values.

Exemplary Damages might be described as a book of poems on modern appetites or as an inquest into what and why we consume - `How will there ever be goods, enough, white goods,/ dry goods, grave goods, munitions, comestibles,/ to do justice to all the peoples of the world?' - and what consumes us, be it predatory diseases, worry or lust. And as with `Last Words', on Philip Larkin, who proved `a sleazy/ bastard to the last' and whose death was `by all accounts,/ no great loss' (one of the more stinging poems in this collection) O'Driscoll seems to be implicitly acknowledging that his insider dealings with the commercial and literary trades - he works in Irish Customs and is both poet and critic - have supplied him with some of his best lines.

If this collection is, in different ways, complicit with the very culture it criticises it does not fail to remind us ...

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