Comparing themselves so explicitly with MacNeice and Auden is, for Armitage and Maxwell, a double-edged sword; it could, of course, catapult them into the canon of great twentieth-century poets, but on the evidence here it is more likely simply to point up their comparative shortcomings.
When Auden and MacNeice set out for Iceland sixty years ago, they wrote journals, jottings, eclogues and letters, reflections 'on one's past and one's culture from the outside'. As Spain fought its civil war, and Europe slid into another, the two achieved an artistic and intellectual distance from all the political convulsions, while still seeming somehow engaged (MacNeice's 'Down in Europe Seville fell, / Nations germinating hell...' is typical). The result was Letters from Iceland.
The country is ideal for such meditative creation. As Armitage writes, it 'seems to occupy a very elevated position, looking down on the rest of the world'. Or more poetically, 'Iceland is one of the world's valves, a sort of cork or bung, or a wound in the Earth's skin