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This review is taken from PN Review 30, Volume 9 Number 4, March - April 1983.

OBLIQUE GRACE John Montague, Selected Poems (Oxford) £5.95

Even if John Montague were not well-known as editor and principal translator of Faber's fine Irish Verse anthology we would be aware at once that his work needs its Irish context quite as much as it presents that background. This is a proviso, not a weakness. Myth and history, personal recollection, present observation (sometimes close to the political bone, as in 'A New Siege' or 'Sound of a Wound') are all offered through a strongly and deliberately Irish range of reference. To say that there is no ignoring this is to say why his Selected Poems, as a book, leaves an impression of fulness and completeness, but also why it can be difficult to take the same impression from individual poems, and even sequences, within the selection. Perhaps, anyhow, that rather metropolitan notion of the self-contained and clean-cast poem is out of place, and it needs to be said that the hunger for smug urgencies which takes such articulate part in contemporary poetic taste will find little with which to satisfy itself here.

'An Irish poet seems to me in a richly ambiguous position, with the pressure of an incompletely discovered past behind him and the whole modern world around.' I am not sure that the evidence of this selection points to a very forthright grasping of that 'modern world'. The past, however, has a special relevance in that John Montague's cherished kinds of image, and indeed standpoint, are of a type we can only call conventional. ...


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