Is Derek Mahon one of the best living poets in English? Years ago, Michael Longley assured me that his generation in Belfast ‘would be the biggest thing since the Thirties’. I was intrigued, being a decade older, and also from the North (though I’m from Tyrone, the forgotten heartland of Ulster). Perhaps his prophecy has come true and, if so, Derek Mahon is a figure of central importance, as this stout volume of nearly 400 pages confirms.
The prospect of exploring this new Collected is pleasant but daunting. When Auden produced his first Collected, he arranged the poems alphabetically, which flummoxed those of us who had expected a conventional chronological order. Mahon has done nothing as drastic, but he has presented the poems in one