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This review is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.

PERSONAL VOICES BRENDAN KENNELLY, Reservoir Voices (Bloodaxe)
PAULA MEEHAN, Music for Dogs (Dedalus)
MARY MONTAGUE, Tribe (Dedalus)
THOMAS MCCARTHY, The Last Geraldine Officer (Anvil)

When critics’ speak of a poet’s voice, they sometimes praise the distinctiveness or achieved voice of a poet’s work, where voice really means style; others are criticised for a monotony of voice, where voice is meant to indicate a reduction of lyric to autobiography. These four books are themselves interested in what it means to have a voice as a writer and the way they use and create voices complicates how we read their work.

In his enjoyable and overlooked 2007 collection Now, Brendan Kennelly wrote wry, glancing tercets which eavesdropped on contemporary Dublin’s savageries. Kennelly’s new book, Reservoir Voices, also records other voices, generally from the same kind of ironic and ethical distance, though here Kennelly boldly announces the book’s moral frame by titling each poem with an abstraction, feelings or object which the poem then personifies ( the opening poems, for example, are ‘Shame’, ‘Lie’, ‘Foul’, ‘Grace’, ‘Pretence’). This means that the poems work as riddles to which the titles are answers, a device which seems, like the book’s short preface, to undersell these poems and, more generally, what poems might be: the titles might unify the book but they cramp the individual poems.

In spite of the book’s refusal of a simple ‘I’, its best poems and stanzas are those in which Kennelly himself seems to speak through his titles: ‘Strange how moments return // from thirty, forty years ago / moments even now / craving / for me as you go ...


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