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This review is taken from PN Review 157, Volume 30 Number 5, May - June 2004.

RETURNING TO CHILDHOOD JAMES CLARENCE MANGAN, Poems, edited and introduced by David Wheatley (Gallery Press) £13.90

To read the poems of James Clarence Mangan is in many ways like returning to childhood. We read them, that is, not for their maturity of vision or subtlety of expression, but for their incantatory magic, their emotional extravagance, their glorious, exhuberant - not to say slapdash - use of rhythm and rhyme. To come across them in adulthood is to be returned to the pre-critical stage, as if we were reading poetry for the first time.

This might well seem a curious sort of commendation. As David Wheatley reminds us in his Introduction, Mangan is the most uncanonical of writers. (Indeed, even as a poet of Irish nationalism, he is an ambivalent figure, given his ignorance of the language, and his anglicisation of Irish names.) He appears as an impossibly belated figure, espousing a Romantic creed whose hollowness had already been exposed by Byron. He brings with him the promise of revelation - `A deep, a marvellous, a prophetic power' - but there is never anything to show except for the promise itself; its fulfilment is always indefinitely deferred.

His work is a hodge-podge of ruins and fragments. This is a Romanticism in extremis, exoticised and sensationalised, much as in the work of his contemporary, Edgar Allan Poe. There is much too akin in their lives: in their general impoverishment and wretchedness, and their bouts of drunkenness, in their (perhaps compensatory) extravagance of imagination, and in their occasional grandiosity. If Mangan lacks the latter's ...


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