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This review is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

THE PULL OF HOME DEREK WALCOTT, White Egrets (Faber) £12.99
DEREK MAHON, An Autumn Wind (The Gallery Press) £10.95

As promised, the Corfu crew put him ashore
at dawn, still dozing, where the sea’s roar
turned in his ears, and so he woke at last
on his own soil.

                                                           (Derek Mahon, ‘Ithaca’)

Poets of place have a difficult time settling. The dust-jacket of Derek Walcott’s The Prodigal (2005) described it as ‘a compelling steer between exile and belonging, Europe and the New World, wanderlust and the inevitable pull of home’, whereas Hugh Haughton, in his study of The Poetry of Derek Mahon (2007), described Mahon as ‘much preoccupied by “home” and travel, exile and return, place and displacement’. Both poets, the one Caribbean, the other Northern Irish, are, in Walcott’s phrase, ‘fortunate travellers’ (‘your luck is that you can always leave’).

Both are also environmentally and culturally sensitive, cosmopolitan, classicist and artistic (Walcott a painter, Mahon fond of ekphrasis). In their poetry they are both highly accomplished masters of poetic forms. Walcott writes lush, frequently self- exploratory verse, while Mahon mixes memory and persona poems with critiques of global issues. Their new books at once celebrate and are preoccupied by loss, personal or ecological.

In Derek Walcott’s White Egrets the eponymous birds appear and reappear throughout the 54-poem sequence. In the title poem they come and go, ‘elegant’, ‘impeccable’, part angel, part mythical. Yeats’ ‘unwearied’ swans are the herons of Walcott’s book, a meditation on what he calls in the title poem, ‘time’s light’. While the ...

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