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This review is taken from PN Review 127, Volume 25 Number 5, May - June 1999.

TALISMANIC OCCASIONS MICHAEL LONGLEY, Selected Poems (Cape) £8.00
ROBERT WELLS, Lusus (Carcanet) £6.95
STEPHEN ROMER, Tribute (OUP) £7.99

The publication of a Selected is one of those talismanic occasions in a poet's career. It's a watershed from which we may view the body of work explicating itself. In Michael Longley's case the panorama is complicated by the fact that three editions of Longley's Collected Poems have already been published. And, as with the Collected, Longley's Selected is a book of exclusions. Longley continues to exclude 'The Linen Workers' from his approved canon. That poem, with its astonishing opening verse, remains as potent a memorial to the dead of the Troubles, as Heaney's Bog poems, or Mahon's 'A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford'. It is as potent because Longley's painstaking grounding in the classical lyric has allowed him to evoke emotion without the need for either archaeology or the poetic integuments of the post-holocaust. Longley allows his reader to ponder thanatos in the context of the Troubles and be genuinely moved. Unlike other poets of his generation or locale, Longley is not afraid to allow death to be domestic.

Neither is Longley afraid to pinch fragments of the epic, in particular The Odyssey, for the lyric. And not just to furnish him with plot lines. Longley uses the lyric as a prism to unpick and refocus the multiple voices of the epic. In 'Ceasefire', Achilles and Priam end up in a rather masculine mutual admiration:

When they had eaten together, it pleased them both
to stare at each other's beauty as lovers ...


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