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This review is taken from PN Review 199, Volume 37 Number 5, May - June 2011.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry, edited by Patrick Crotty (Penguin) £40

Who would volunteer for the decade-long task of editing a 'definitive anthology of Ireland's astonishing 1500 year poetic legacy', as the back flap of this book puts it? When Hugh MacDiarmid attempted such a task for Scottish poetry in 1940 his Golden Treasury of Scottish Verse had a number of Anglocentric adversaries in its sights. He enlisted Sorley MacLean to translate the Gaelic elements and also included the then rarely regarded Scots and Latin traditions. His introduction to that iconoclastic and original anthology looked to Irish precursors, mentioning AE, Frank O'Connor and others whose translations transformed ideas about Ireland's literary traditions, celebrating the variety and thousand-year developments of Irish-language poetry while stressing the independent glories of the latecoming English-language tradition. MacDiarmid's recognition of the Celtic Revival's work is evident in every definitive Irish anthology published subsequently, from Padraic Colum's Anthology of Irish Verse (1922) to Kathleen Hoagland's 1000 Years of Irish Poetry (1947), from Thomas Kinsella and John Montague's respective Oxford (1986) and Faber (1974) books to the Brendan Kennelly Penguin edition (1970) which this volume replaces.

Patrick Crotty, then, enters a crowded field and he draws, like his predecessors, on the Irish and English-language model of the Revival; he also follows up on Thomas Kinsella's 1986 introduction of poems in Latin and Norman French but now, in both cases, adds substantially and often impressively to their number. In 2002 John Montague, who taught Crotty in Cork, complained of the limits set upon his edition by Faber's: ...


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