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This review is taken from PN Review 18, Volume 7 Number 4, March - April 1981.

STILLNESS INTO HISTORY Tom Paulin, The Strange Museum (Faber) £3.50
Seamus Heaney and Noel Connor, Gravities (Charlotte Press) £1.75
Michael Longley, The Echo Gate (Secker) £3.00
Andrew Waterman, Over the Wall (Carcanet) £2.95

In his second book, The Strange Museum, Tom Paulin finds a sustaining abstract metaphor for the condition, or plight, of the contemporary Irish writer caught, in the very language he uses, in a web of crossed loyalties, afflicted with the responsibility of extreme self-consciousness about his own inheritance and 'tradition'. Paulin imagines himself, in an image that carries obvious Marxian reverberations, held static in the 'long lulled pause/Before history happens,/when the spirit hungers for form.' In a poem called 'A Partial State', Ireland before the present troubles is defined as 'Stillness, without history'. And Trotsky, a central presence in the book, is seen at the Finland station 'Plunging from stillness into history' and is imagined uttering a self-definition in the long, mysterious, effortlessly inventive poem, 'The Other Voice': 'I am history now./I carry time in my mind./As sharp as an axe.' Mandelstam in the same poem is an intricately opposed figure who leaves a buttery in the Kremlin 'Because I could never stay/In the same room as Trotsky' and celebrates his own hermetic withdrawal: 'In the great dome of art . . ./I am free of history'. 'Stillness' and 'history'; poetry ('What does a poem serve?/Only the pure circle of itself') and political fact; the tender absenteeism of 'formal elegance', of 'a tennis suburb', of 'the first freshness' of sex, of 'a graceful love' discovered in an alien Indian culture, confronting 'Bricks of a hundred linen mills,/The shadows of black tabernacles' and the vindictive god who 'scatters/bodies everywhere and ...


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