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This review is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

DIANA'S SPRING COLLECTION Derek Mahon, The Hunt By Night Oxford £4.00

The Hunt By Night is Derek Mahon's first full-length collection since Poems 1962-1978, a volume that revealed an oeuvre-shaping symbolic talent of singular coherency, but whose deliberations were marked by a restless provisionality of utterance punctuated by expressions of the deepest scepticism about the value of poetry. In the new volume that scepticism has been absorbed into an almost seamless rhetoric of disavowal which is disconcerting until one recognises the radical disorientation that it contains. The disorientation issues from peculiarly complex feelings of loss, guilt and betrayal, for behind the distinctively modern creative sensibility that feels its condition, almost by definition, is exile, if not silence, lies always the poet who, having 'escaped the massacre' (to borrow a phrase from Heaney's 'Exposure') finds himself faced by the specifically Irish pressures of 'woman-inquisition' ('Ecclesiastes'). It's really no wonder that Mahon's insistence on the banishment of the gods is, as Neil Corcoran has put it, so 'rearguard', or that his tone of ironic detachment is sometimes so bewilderingly unstable. At the heart of his poetry, beneath all the brilliance and sophistication, lies a doomed gesture of appeasement of extraordinary pathos. His talent's weakness is smart literary commentary, or the lapidary equivalent of that compulsive rhetorical engine-making that Randall Jarrell decried in the later Auden. And his acknowledgment of the danger of becoming trapped in his own idiom doesn't preclude a tendency towards self-parody. But when the sharpness of the quotidian comes through a remarkable poetry results, articulating with force and subtlety ...


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