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This review is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

New Thinking john redmond, Poetry and Privacy: Questioning Public Interpretations of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (Seren) £14.99

In this impressively written and thought-provoking collection of essays, John Redmond artfully explores a critical tendency to involve poetry interpretation with public spheres of value which, as he shows, often have little to do with the original text. Across seven chapters Redmond addresses Derek Mahon, Glyn Maxwell, Robert Minhinnick, Plath as an influence on Heaney, John Burnside, Vona Groarke, and, finally, David Jones and W.S. Graham. Each chapter takes up a familiar or previous critical reading of a poet, indicative of a ‘public’ framework of interpretation, and then proceeds to provide a concise overview that challenges this reception, ending with a more thorough and demonstrative analysis through which to stake a renewed perspective.

Before taking up this task, Redmond’s introduction condenses a wealth of incisive observations pertinent to his discussion – all of which are immediately and excitingly relatable to anyone with an interest in the ‘role’ and ‘representation’ of contemporary British and Irish poetry. I put these terms in inverted commas, as they are the shifty harbingers of much ambiguity, cynicism and reproach, and rightfully so: what ‘role’ should definitively be assigned to a medium so indebted to the indefinable and what, once enrolled in its chosen (nay, given) role, should and can it represent? Unlike music or visual art, both of which are freer to inhabit and construct abstraction as a basis for emphatic communication, poetry has to strive in a medium of reference. Granted, it can break up, bend, tangle and ‘tell it slant’ but ultimately, as language, its reading often still falls prey to the ...

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