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This review is taken from PN Review 71, Volume 16 Number 3, January - February 1990.

GOLDEN GIRLS John Montague, Mount Eagle (Bloodaxe Books) £12.95 hb, £5.95 pb
Richard Murphy, The Mirror Wall (Bloodaxe Books) £10.95 hb, £4.95 pb

John Montague's poetry, rooted in his Ulster upbringing, has in his eighth collection Mount Eagle become more than ever before varied in its subject-material. Here are celebrations of the creatures, plants, and other phenomena of the natural world, poems of erotic love, reworkings of legend, poems cherishing domestic moments with his small children, human characterisations, many of these last indeed remembered from Montague's County Tyrone childhood. What inspires poetry invariably includes an impulse to preserve, to seal enduringly in a verbal artefact things belonging to life's flux and transience. Thomas Hardy, making poetry from a sparrow bathing in a cart-wheel rut, a fly crawling on the page in front of him, from noticing the marks of woman's powder on second-hand suit hanging in a pawnbroker's, or a bagman's financial calculations in the margins of a bible for travellers in a tatty railway waiting-room, as well as from any domestic incident, or conversation overheard whether at a sheep-fair or between two unknown women, was the master of such art. But for the greatest poetry, inspiration must include more than the preservative impulse, as Hardy's, with its capacities for intense feeling and wise insight into the way the world goes, and its profound imaginative sleights, of course does. John Montague is not only less able than Hardy to give a vital interest to the incidental or anecdotal; though he can generate an emotional charge, it is never so searing, and sometimes feeble.

His human stories, memories, portrayals, have the ...


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