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

IN THE SPOTLIGHT Edna Longley, Louis MacNeice: a Study (Faber) £4.95 pb
Louis MacNeice, Selected Poems, edited and with an introduction by Michael Longley (Faber) £4.95 pb

W.H. Auden's selection of MacNeice's poems was published in a staggeringly large edition: according to the Bibliography, 22,000 copies. Perhaps it has taken nearly twenty-five years to exhaust the stock. MacNeice's poetry has always had its passionate advocates and readers yet, in any general context, Auden casts so long a shadow that editors and critics have to dispel that first. Some never manage to do so. Perhaps this new selection by Michael Longley - of which roughly two-thirds coincides with Auden's - will finally give MacNeice his own show, the spotlight ably directed by Edna Longley's study.

She makes some pertinent remarks on the dramatic element in MacNeice's poetry, and his 'metaphors of life as performance'. The Longleys are both convinced that this is one of the elements that has retarded critical recognition of MacNeice: it tips over into 'a way with words' and relishes surface glamour - things that the English distrust in the Irish. They allow, too, that his English education and professional life made him equally suspect in Ireland. But they point to the prominence given to MacNeice's poetry in Paul Muldoon's recent Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry as evidence that justice is being done at last; regrettably, neither of them tease out the poetic implications of the younger poets' homage in any satisfying way. The Longleys' Irish allegiance is unequivocal: it enables Edna Longley to give a subtle account of MacNeice's Irishness, and its literary, political and geographical contexts. She points out ...


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