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This review is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.


The new-found wealth of the Celtic Tiger does not seem to impress Brendan Kennelly. Though the title of his latest collection, Begin, sounds a redemptive note, the work is weighted by a bleak, unyielding vision which casts Dublin as a city still stuck and settled in the mire, Ireland still a breeding-ground for madness and desolation. Though Kennelly offers glimpses of redemption and self-renewal at the beginning and end of the work, there is little consolation in-between. Dublin is 'treacherous' and 'malignant', the Liffey the domain of rats and corpses. Irish history is imagined and re-imagined, as always, with fatigue, frustration, and passion. And Ireland itself - 'squat little comical scandalous Ireland' - is a constant betrayer of hope. This work is not a celebration, but a portrait of desolation. One almost wonders if the title is ironic.

The volume begins, more or less, with the section entitled A Dublin Saunter. Clearly this title is meant to be taken ironically - unlike the Dublin we have come to know through Irish ballads and Bord Failte, Kennelly's city is not a place to saunter through or 'trip lightly'. He reminds us instead of endemic homelessness, hunger, and madness. In this prospering economy, it is not the newly rich who earn the poet's pity or attention, but those who remain tied to poverty and squalor. He seems to insist that the influx of money, power, and status into this dear but dirty old town can only have a negative ...

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