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This article is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

United Ireland Andrew Waterman

Thomas Kinsella's The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (£12.50) collects a rich abundance of the best poetry written by the Irish through fourteen centuries, translating into English the great proportion composed in the island's earlier language. It is a necessary and rewarding anthology, demonstrating the larger unity binding Ireland's divided linguistic traditions. To this question I shall return, but I start at the ending.

Kinsella's Introduction acknowledges: 'As to the anthology's closing choices, these (exclusions as well as inclusions) can amount to no more than a personal gesture.' It will surprise those overimpressed by what Kinsella refers to as 'any "Northern Ireland Renaissance"' in recent years, to find among the fifteen included poets from Kavanagh to the present only six Ulstermen: no Longley, Paulin, Simmons or Muldoon. The thrust of Kinsella's gesture here is calculated: 'The idea of such a renaissance has been strongly urged for some time, and this idea by now has acquired an aspect of official support. But it is largely a journalistic entity.' Fair comment; but one suspects that in pique Kinsella has over-reacted. It s arguable that deprived of the charisma of unavoidable engagement with the Northern 'troubles', which indeed ingratiates itself to more popular media, Southern poets are freed to write about life and their lives, their lovers and launderettes, to be in this respect more like English poets. It remains a question whether many are good poets. Certainly Kinsella's exclusion of John Hewitt is a wilful insult: Hewitt can ...


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