John Montague has been long esteemed, in Ireland and abroad, as the maker of poems and books which have assumed iconic status. Titles and phrases from them have entered the lexicon of the nation. New Collected Poems opens with three major ‘orchestrations’, The Rough Field (1972), The Great Cloak (1978) and The Dead Kingdom (1984) which sound the notes of his enduring themes and concerns. They are followed by exquisite lyrics and two sequences, Time in Armagh (1993) and Border Sick Call (1995) which, with characteristic sweep, remember and take stock of a familiar civilization. Also included are translations from Irish and the flourish of three more recent collections, Smashing the Piano (1999), Drunken Sailor (2004) and Speech Lessons (2011). Reprising earlier topics these culminate in a compendium of memories, ‘In My Grandfather’s Mansion’. At last, all John Montague’s circling achieves a return. The book’s arrangement reflects the pattern of a lifetime’s dedication: part self-portrait, it is even more a ‘landscape with figures’ — and it has more than ever the look of a masterpiece.
‘John Montague is virtually Ireland’s poet laureate. His best poems are all autobiographical . . . Splinter-sharp, they go straight to the heart and catch in the memory like burrs.’
— John Carey, The Sunday Times.