Selected Poems by Derek Mahon - review by P J Kavanagh

P J Kavanagh

Clean In The Open Air

Selected Poems


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It is difficult to isolate the special brilliance of Derek Mahon, because he is so various, and inclusive. Perhaps it lies in his overall tone, which is that of a man disgusted by the world, who nevertheless celebrates the world, by including just about everything that is in the world, tempering his disgust with a kind of lightness of spirit. He has Sappho say, of love, ‘a site of praise and not of grievances / whatever the torment – which we meet, if wise / in our best festive and ingenious guise’.

In an early poem, ‘Beyond Howth Head’, he allows himself a snap of anger (‘and Washington, its grisly aim / to render the whole earth the same’), which easily swings, next verse, into celebration of his beloved things:

Spring lights the country; from a thousand

dusty corners, house by house,

from under beds

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