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This review is taken from PN Review 183, Volume 35 Number 1, September - October 2008.

TWO WORLDS BERNARD O'DONOGHUE, Selected Poems (Faber and Faber) £12.99

Two worlds exist in O'Donoghue's poetry: that of the past, of home, with its vividly sketched local personalities and precise locations; and that of the strange and less hospitable present, where people are unnamed and places unspecified. The eccentrics and minor celebrities of O'Donoghue's native West Cork who populate the first sphere, are, it would seem, known to everyone in the region. Their escapades feed the gossip of an entire village. In 'Finn the Bonesetter', from his first collection, The Weakness (1991), O'Donoghue writes:

Proverbial wisdom kept us off the streets
And that's a fact. The art of talk is dead.
When we'd shaken all our heads enough
At people's knowing in the days of old
(When a cow died they thanked Almighty God
It wasn't one of them), we'd contemplate
Our local marvel-workers.


In spite of the archness of this passage, O'Donoghue's affection for the shared horizons and common frames of reference that bound himself and his neighbours together is manifest throughout his work. 'Munster Final' for instance describes a football match where glens and lakes lead seamlessly onto the pitch and names can be put to the voices on the loudspeakers - an idyllically intimate situation far removed from the anonymity and the turnstiles and gates of the modern spectatorial experience:

[...] we parked facing for home
And joined the long troop down the meadowsweet
And woodbine-scented road ...


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