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This review is taken from PN Review 131, Volume 26 Number 3, January - February 2000.

HOME AND AWAY BERNARD O'DONOGHUE, Here Nor There (Chatto) £8.99
KATE CLANCHY, Samarkand (Picador) £6.99

In his new collection, Here Nor There, Bernard O'Donoghue does enough to remind us that he is a modern-minded poet, with moments of urbane irony, trenchant scepticism and nods to the tragic indeterminacy of things: 'we're designed / To live neither together nor alone' ('The Faultline'). Yet much of his poetry is a vehicle for honouring lives led under the sign of a particular set of determinacies, those of rural Ireland. Cruelties and kindnesses stoically borne follow one another into and out of the foreground. Each anecdote is a more-than-anecdote, speaking of but also for an enfeebled way of life. In 'The Owl at Willie Mac's' a man met on the road is later killed by 'a car that could hardly be expected / To pick him out against a wintering sky'. His fate is emblematic.

Several poems are signalled as dedications, elegies or tributes. The poet, obeying the 'determined drawstring' of the eye and mind, moves in discreet though not uncritical service of the world he has left behind. (None of which is to say that Here Nor There offers rural Ireland and nothing but. A number of poems come from quite different places.) O'Donoghue limits each poem to a single anecdote, insight, character sketch, memory and shows how much can be done with this modest approach. In 'The Definition of Love', the first stanza ponders the quintessence of an emotion while the second, mediated by a simple line space, dramatizes it in a most unexpected ...


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