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This review is taken from PN Review 170, Volume 32 Number 6, July - August 2006.

VIGIL JOHN F. DEANE, The Instruments of Art (Carcanet) £ 8.95

Vigil: the word rises out of the Latin to denote alertness, attention, staying awake. The word also suggests praying through the night before a holy day or event, and it inevitably connotes the watchful waiting that accompanies death and dying. The word has a cognate in what John F. Deane in one poem has called an 'advertence', that is, a deliberate, sustained, unflinching turn toward what is truly there before you, no matter how complex or difficult. Deane's new book, The Instruments of Art, has an extraordinary thematic sweep. The poems move from the self and its relations to family and loved ones, to the citizen and his relations with nation and state, to our animal nature, and our relations to the natural world as a whole. And at the far end of his thematic spectrum, we find Deane's enduring inquiry into the nature of the human soul and its relations to whatever gods there are. Both in ambition and achievement, this is a major book of poetry. In its every quadrant one discovers exquisitely crafted poems of sustained and careful attention to moments of suffering, death, and loss. His is a gaze determined not to turn away from what has called out to be seen, and The Instruments of Art is Deane's book of vigils.

The best entry into this work is through the music of its lines. 'Lady', an elegy for the poet's mother and father, is one of the shorter poems in the ...


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