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This review is taken from PN Review 163, Volume 31 Number 5, May - June 2005.

INDOOR FIREWORKS PETER McDONALD, Pastorals (Carcanet) £8.95

In following its opening allusion to Edmund Spenser's Fraelissa and Fradubio, with a translation from Theocritus, elsewhere a 'Pastoral' and an 'Eclogue', Peter McDonald's new book proclaims itself to be seriously literary. Does it survive its learning? The test of any poetry, if you are the classicist Housman, is that it makes the hair stand on the back of your neck. But however it invades your body or your mind, it must work at once at the level of language and sound, no matter what paradigms it brings into play, or how it wears its knowledge, on or off the sleeve, or even off the cuff and throw-away. McDonald's versions of pastoral are of several varieties and forms of antithesis. The binaries or doublings of childhood/ adulthood; staying/ leaving; Belfast/Oxford; Protestant/ Catholic; war/ peace; love/ grief; life/ death and bereavement: all structure this collection, as, in two key poems, do exemplars from the canonical tradition: Dryden's Annus Mirabilis, Auden's New Year Letter (first published as The Double Man). They do so in verse of great formal strength and sinuous subtlety that sets out, often on foot, on the run (walking into Rome, running with the hound, running through London streets), to make good of loss. This is no easy good, no simple pleasure, but one itself fugitive even when brought to book, 'slighter than a thread of hair'. In the poem 'Two Trees' (Fraelissa and Fradubio), in which McDonald uses ...


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