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This review is taken from PN Review 167, Volume 32 Number 3, January - February 2006.

LITTLE HELLS DENNIS O'DRISCOLL, New and Selected Poems (Anvil) £11.95

For almost twenty-five years, Dennis O'Driscoll has been exploring his perspective on the everyday consequentialities that make up our lives. The fact that I do not share his perspective is worth mentioning, if only to alert the reader to the fact that there may be more gold in O'Driscoll's poems than I suggest below. 'I am undisputed Lord of the Files', observes a clerical worker in 'Serving Time', and that is what the poet is: a recorder of the little hells of living and dying. He is also a compassionate clock watcher and a tolerant satirist with a surrealistic eye.

Above all he has a true sense of the working life and explores it frequently, as in the long and successful sequence, 'The Bottom Line':

A life of small disappointments, hardly meriting
asperity or rage, an e-mail cc-ed
to the wrong address, an engagement
missed, a client presentation failing
to persuade: nothing you can't sweat off
at gym or squash. But, in the dark filling
of the night, doubts gather with the rain ...

The first line and a half might serve as the epigraph to the whole book. This poem explores the lives of the materially successful. He is at his best here, as he is with the secretaries: 'able to laugh off risqué / jokes, remain tight-lipped as wives'. We might wonder what common griefs and resentments are denied expression by those tight ...


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