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This article is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.

Somewhere, Out There, Beyond: the poetry of Seamus Heaney and Derek Mahon Andrew Waterman

In a year in which protracted cultural goings-on around London under the designation 'A Sense of Ireland' have boasted presentation of 'fifty of Ireland's outstanding writers', it needs insisting that by even benign serious standards 'outstanding' literary achievement is a decidedly rare occurrence: the enabling talent sparingly bestowed, the labour for its realisation formidable. Generalisation can offer only approximate justice, but allowing a further penumbra of minimal talents which in sporadic slight ways repay interest, I would suggest that less than ten living Irish writers compel recognition as good: enough for a small population to be grateful for. If one confines consideration to poets, and then to poets born in the six counties of Northern Ireland, upon whom much attention has been lavished in recent years, the incidence of talent dwindles more or less proportionately. There has certainly occurred in Ulster since the 1960s an efflorescence of verse-making, aggregating by now, 1980, to a considerable number of matured or fledgling careers pushing their claims, in a sort of collaborative rivalry taken overall to denote cultural vitality. It is not my purpose here to explore and justify on a wide front my feeling that this all amounts only to the sort of literary phenomenon intimated by Pope's line about 'a mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease', nor to detail my conviction that among those with some talent to use or abuse Paul Muldoon, Frank Ormsby and Michael Longley, rather than risk striving to net the unknown, are poets content ...


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