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This review is taken from PN Review 77, Volume 17 Number 3, January - February 1991.

DISPROPORTION The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry, edited by Peter Fallon and Derek Mahon (Penguin) £6.99

The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry features 35 poets in nearly 450 pages, 'generous' proportions, certainly: comparison with The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry (Morrison/Motion, 1982, 20 poets in 200 pages) shows how readers of British poetry have been sold short. By 'contemporary' the editors mean 'alive' (why didn't they just say so, instead of claiming to chart 'the course of the past thirty or forty years', having then to explain away the absence of MacNeice, Kavanagh, Clarke, Devlin, Fallon and Hewitt?) and by 'Irish' either English or Gaelic poetry by Irishmen, though English predominates. Gallery Press (founder/editor Peter Fallon) is notably well-represented, Blackstaff and Dedalus Presses notably thinly (Raven Arts fares better). In mitigation, Gallery has a strong list, having taken over many poets from the excellent Dolmen, which folded after the death of its founder, Liam Miller.

The editors admit to what they call a 'polemical purpose': 'to dispel the illusion that Irish poetry has been written exclusively by persons of Northern provenance'. The proportions are scrupulously fair, however (24 poets from the Republic to 11 from Ulster), and the Ulster poets on the whole judiciously represented; the only evidence of rigging is the absence of any younger than Paul Muldoon (born 1951; youngest contributor born 1967). The omission of Michael Foley is a scandal, irrespective of his 'Northern provenance'.

According to the editors, then, 'the Northern phenomenon remains, in Kinsella's phrase, "largely a journalistic entity"', and I do recall reading ...


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