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This review is taken from PN Review 162, Volume 31 Number 4, March - April 2005.

POETRY AND FAILURE DYLAN THOMAS, Poems Selected by Derek Mahon (Faber) £6.99
ANDREW LYCETTE, Dylan Thomas: A New Life (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) £20

'... it was always going too far', as Louis MacNeice said, to expect Dylan Thomas 'on the dot'. Punctuality, like diplomacy, was never one of Thomas's strong points. So it is scandalously appropriate that the publication of Dylan Thomas: Poems Selected by Derek Mahon, by failing to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Dylan's death, has kept us waiting. Yet, even though this edition is fabulously late, this should not be interpreted as signifying a lack of interest. For Mahon's introduction, if at times underplayed - 'those who feel poetry has lost touch with some vital function could do worse than read [Thomas] again' - is nonetheless a passionate defence of the Welsh poet against the 'recurrent and strangely vindictive... attacks on his reputation.'

Mahon is a natural defender of the undervalued. He has, for instance, edited Jonathan Swift for Faber's Poet to Poet series. Swift and Thomas may seem like antithetical poets, yet their similarities, be it their neglect by scholars, their ambivalence about writing or their status as antisocial legends, tells us some-thing about the kind of poet with whom Mahon identifies. We learn from the introduction that Dylan was part of Derek's younger and more formative years. But even though this early reading shines through Mahon's early poetry - there are echoes of Thomas in Mahon's titles and themes ('A Refusal to Mourn', the unborn speak, for instance) - this edition favours, not so much the early poet of 'explosive talent' and 'inchoate ...


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