The recent early death of Mick Imlah, one of the stars of the ‘New Generation’ poets of the early 1990s, inevitably recalled the death of Michael Donaghy, another of that stellar group, in 2004 at the age of fifty. The two books considered here bring together Donaghy’s complete writings – most notably of course his outstanding poems. He first came to major notice when Shibboleth won the Whitbread Prize in 1988, though in his last interview (with John Stammers) in The Shape of the Dance, he regrets that this remained his best-known book, judging the following book, Errata, to be better. Amongst the general poetic readership though (if there is such a thing), that first book, dominated by its archetypal title poem, remains his best-known work. ‘Shibboleth’ ends unforgettably ‘Intoning the Christian names of the Andrews Sisters./ “Maxine, Laverne, Patty”.’ The main address at Donaghy’s funeral ended by tolling that improbable last line again.
But Donaghy is far from a one-hit wonder. Clive James, in the introduction to Donaghy’s essays, writes: ‘Every resource of his mind and memory was in service to language, of which, both creatively and critically, he was a master.’ There is ample opportunity in these two books to