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This review is taken from PN Review 165, Volume 32 Number 1, September - October 2005.

GREEN LINES TOM PAULIN, The Road to Inver (Faber) £12.99
MEDBH McGUCKIAN, The Book of the Angel (Gallery Press) E11.40
JOHN MONTAGUE, Drunken Sailor (Gallery Press) E11.40
BRENDAN KENEALLY, Familiar Strangers: New and Selected Poems 1960-2004 (Bloodaxe) £12

These four books attest to the richness of the poetic experience in contemporary Ireland. Though also corresponding to the North-South historical/religious sense of Irishness, and the unavoidable East-West tension between England and Ireland, these poems are such 'familiar strangers' to the rest of us (to borrow from Kennelly's title of his impressive collection) that it would be a mistake to speak of them simply along such recognisable lines. Instead, I want to look at them in terms of the 'variety of poetic experience': how the poet relates to language, how he or she engages with other poets, and how he or she involves us with the work. So where do these voices come from and to whom do they call?

Tom Paulin's The Road to Inver is a collection of 'translations, versions and imitations' written between 1975 and 2003. Described by its publisher as 'the richest collection of its kind since Robert Lowell's Imitations', this gathering of 'often incredibly vigorous engagements with other people's work' (as Ian Sampson called it in The Guardian on 18 December 2004) again reveals Paulin's own imaginative power. The poet takes the voices of Montale, Camus, Rilke, Baudelaire, Goethe, Tsvetaeva, Rimbaud and Akhmatova (among many others) and absorbs them effortlessly into his own. Thus an excerpt from 'Darkness at Noon' after Nerval sounds like this:

Anyone who stares hard at the sun
sees a dot in front of their ...


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