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This review is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

UNITIES John Montague, New Selected Poems, edited by Peter Fallon and Dillon Johnston (Bloodaxe) £12.95, £5.95 pb
John Montague, The Rough Field (Bloodaxe) £5.95

I suspect it is because John Montague's best poetry is so difficult to talk about that he is less well-known than many writers who are his inferiors. One feels like doing as that 'someone' of whom Robert Frost spoke did, drawing his finger over some lines and saying simply, 'From there to - there'. And if one's interlocutor cannot see the quality of the writing, well, there is nothing to be done. Why the difficulty? Because Montague's best poetry does not require the erudition of the commentator, pulling out the plums of learned allusions and references and clarifying obscurities of syntax; nor, since it is not obviously innovative in its techniques, does it lend itself to the kind of explication that concentrates on technical analysis (and too often supposes that a mere fussiness with, say, line-endings is a mark of poetic worth). His best poems preempt the efforts of those who would speak for them.

In this - though the comparison will not perhaps please so fervently Irish a writer - Montague's poetry reminds me of Wordsworth's, in particular of certain of the Lyrical Ballads and narratives like 'The Ruined Cottage', where the poems achieve so completely what they set out to do that there is next to no room left for the commentator and critic. But it is not only in respect of an externality that one feels like drawing the comparison, nor because one senses some similarities between the poets' themes. It is in the ...


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