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

UNCOMFORTABLE CONSOLATIONS DEREK MAHON, Harbour Lights (The Gallery Press) £7.99
JOHN BURNSIDE, The Good Neighbour (Cape Poetry) £9.00

In a 1989 review, Derek Mahon wrote that 'Anglophone literature is, on the whole, ultimately consolatory'. However, it is a broad church and the two poets here, Mahon and John Burnside, each reveal uncomfortable consolations.

In recent books, The Hudson Letter and The Yellow Book, Derek Mahon has been on excellent form. Harbour Lights continues that run, his sense of cultural decay as strong as ever, the solace he takes from exile unmitigated. Memory is central here, and there are several excellent translations.

Harbour Lights is a work in four parts. Like Burnside's divisions they correspond to 'Here' and 'There', except that the first is Paris and south-west France, the second Kinsale, Cork.

Part One gives us 'Resistance Days', an epistle in rhyming couplets, a favourite form of Mahon's and one he exploits with wit. It is a Christmas letter from 'a gauche and unregenerate anglophone', returning to 'the sexy city'. Revenants of the literary past haunt the Parisian streets, partly evoked by photography. The poem's title puns on wartime Paris and the need to resist the corporate culture, Mahon's bête noire. I can read Mahon all day long in this 'pre- informati que', satirical vein. Here is the romantic pessimist's need for 'a persistent fly', which 'buzzes with furious life which will never die'.

In the poem he has dedicated himself, as a New Year's ...


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