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This review is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

PENS AND SWORDS A Rage for Order: Poetry of the Northern Ireland Troubles, edited by Frank Ormsby (Blackstaff Press)

This anthology, Frank Ormsby assures us, 'celebrates … the values of art in times of violence', in particular poetry written about the troubles in Northern Ireland since 1968. There is no attempt, as in Thomas Kinsella's New Oxford Book of Irish Verse or indeed, Orsmby's own selection of Irish writers, to define a specifically Irish poetic or voice; for although the bulk of the poems here are by Irish writers, there are responses from English, American and Russian poets.

It is the notion of a response that forms the foundations of this anthology. What can the artist do, what are the 'values of art in times of violence'? In the Derek Mahon poem which lends the anthology its name the poet is a lonely figure lost 'somewhere' amongst the destruction, yet one whose 'grandiloquent' posture will eventually find form: tearing down 'to build up with a desperate love'; alienated yet achieving a voice that might speak to many. In some ways the entire plan and framework of the anthology attempts to enact a similar release. Beginning with a section on the Irish past, with its fierce but displaced sense of home, then moving forward to the violence of the Troubles, death, the figure of the hero, until a final section which tries to give some sense of the state when 'hope and history rhyme'.

Poets such as Mahon, Deane, Heaney, Muldoon and Yevtushenko expand most confidently upon the grey area between 'evasion and artistic tact' ...


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