The Poems (1961-2020)

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The Poems (1961-2020) comprises, in their final form, all the poems Derek Mahon wished to preserve. It includes recognized masterpieces, the early ‘Afterlives’ and ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’, two extended sequences, ‘New York Time’ and ‘Decadence’, meditations such as ‘Harbour Lights’ and ‘Dreams of a Summer Night’, the heartrending ‘Monochrome’ and his windfall collections, Against the Clock and Washing Up, the latter completed in the weeks before his death last year.
The book records, with formal panache and imaginative sweep, his native province’s ‘Troubles’, his personal travails and urgent concerns for the health of our planet. At once classical and current, these poems speak to their moments. The book culminates in ‘the serenity / which for a lifetime had eluded’ him. The Poems (1961-2020) is a grand occasion in contemporary literature and its contents are models of their art. This is a book for the ages.
'There is no doubt that the publication of Derek Mahon’s The Poems, 1961-2020 is a major occasion in Irish literature . . . As a poet, right through to his final collection, of complex and committed environmental and social politics, with the formal range and grace of the finest practitioners of the art, Mahon’s departure leaves us with a sense of aftermath. Perhaps that is fitting . . . There is so much to enjoy here, and so much to learn from . . . In Mahon’s poetry, we have been left a lasting, rich and challenging legacy. — Seán Hewitt, The Irish Times
Derek Mahon, The Poems, 1961-2020; and Autumn Skies: Writers on Poems by Derek Mahon

There is no doubt that the publication of Derek Mahon’s The Poems, 1961-2020 is a major occasion in Irish literature. Bringing together, in their final forms, the poems that Mahon himself wished to be read, it is not a traditional “collected poems”, excising as it does many poems from his oeuvre, with its contents not being demarcated according to the original published volumes. Instead, The Poems is presented as a final, sweeping testament.

The effect of Mahon’s revisions, whether one thinks them an act of violence or an act of improvement, is to create a career-spanning book that is unusually cohesive, modern and considered in the way that a single collection might be: that is, in terms of idiom, music, crescendo, topicality and timelessness. Here we meet one of Ireland’s finest poets in what he considered to be his final form. It is an astonishing achievement.

Readers familiar with Gallery Press’s earlier New Collected Poems (2011) will recognise much of the structure of this volume. Indeed, the revisions and choices of ordering made in that volume appear to stand here. There is one poem missing (‘Schopenhauer’s Day’), but otherwise The Poems, 1961-2020 looks to be New Collected Poems and Mahon’s penultimate and final collections, Against the Clock (2018) and Washing Up (2020), combined . . .

As a poet, right through to his final collection, of complex and committed environmental and social politics, with the formal range and grace of the finest practitioners of the art, Mahon’s departure leaves us with a sense of aftermath. Perhaps that is fitting.

Over and over his imagination returns to destruction and loss to envision a world that will replace our own. There is a hope beyond the human where nature will be reconfigured without us, where the perspectives of deep time illuminate both the pettiness and the vital importance of our global life.

There is so much to enjoy here, and so much to learn from. Like the aspens in his collection Life on Earth (2008), this is a voice that sometimes “whistles fast and loud/ with forecast and astonishment”, and at other times hunkers down in the dirt. In Mahon’s poetry, we have been left a lasting, rich and challenging legacy.

— Seán Hewitt, The Irish Times

 

 

Mahon 2021 The Poems Title Page

Publication Date: 26 September 2021
Details: 536pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 91133 804 8
ISBN HBK: 978 1 91133 805 5

Cover: ‘C8.08’ by Charles Tyrrell

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