Eavan Boland, ‘Compact and Compromise: Derek Mahon as a Young Poet’, in Irish University Review, 24, 1, Spring/Summer 1994, pp.63-66.

‘We translated our insuperable differences into poetic opposition. I argued for Yeats and heroism; Derek admired MacNeice and Auden. He regarded the privileging of the Irish historical experience with deep suspicion. He was drawn to irony and absurdism and would quickly point out a passage in Camus or Beckett. It was disaffection rather than dispossession that commended itself to him. At thimes, although rarely, he would talk thoughtfully about the dualities of the North - the lack of a poetic idiom, the paucity of heroes. At other times he was exactly the sort of European intellectual tourist I [63] admired most and was least acquainted with ... (pp.63-64).

Notes Derek’s trip to France, Autumn 1964; also that his grandfather was foreman in Harland and Wolff. Response to “Glengormley”: ‘I was admiring and hesitant. Not for the first time I heard in his cadences and abrasions a sort of injured irony. I loved the cadences; I was less sure about the irony. And that, in turn, came from my own lack of understanding. The trouble was, Derek made it look easy. To me at least, his poems suggested complete assurance. Only later did I consider that these postures might have covered an unease: about poetry, about nation, about the plight of a poet caught between definitions.’ (p.65.)

Quotes Mahon: ‘But if Devlin, whilst writing in English, chose to ignore the English tradition, there is a group of poets whose ambiguous ethnic and cultural situation extenuates in their work the Anglocentricity Devlin disliked. These are the Northern poets - Protestant products of an English education system, with little knowledge of the Irish language and an inherited duality of cultural reference. They are a group apart, but need not be considered in isolation, for their ery difference assimilates them to the complexity of continuing the Irish past. Conor Cruise O’Brien has defined the Irish poet as one who is “involved in the Irish situation and usually mauled by it”, and this is as true of the Northern poets as it is of Clarke and Kavanagh. Whatever we mean by “the Irish situation”, the shipyards of Belfast are no less a part of it than a country town in the Gaeltacht.’ (Sphere Book of Modern Irish Poetry, Introduction, p.13-14.)

‘In the coming years were were no help to each other. Given the shape of Irish poetry, it was almost inevitable that this would be so. Simply by being a Northerner, Derek was trapped in the emerging discourse - at times a muddled one - on the public poem, the political poem, the obligations of language in a time of crisis. As a woman poet, I had the opposite experience: I found myself without discourse. It would take me years to put together a critique to support my own levels of experimentation [...] over coffee in Roberts’, he had told me approvingly that one of the real strengths of my poetry was that you could hardly tell it had been written by a woman.’ (p.65.)

‘Already in his early twenties, he was rehearsing his imaginative strategy, preparing to subvert the traditional direction of the lyric with a formal music which, while not authorised by modernism, had yet had learned [sic] everything from it. He was an apt student. By turning the lessons of the last fifty years back to front, he became a dark, witty and adventurous formalist. He undermined formalism with modernism, and modernism with formalism.’

Further, ‘I learned a great deal from him, but I notably failed to persuade him that a radical self cannot function authoritatively in the political poem if the sexual self, which is part of it, remains conservative, exclusive and unquestioning of an inherited authority.’ (p.66.) Note Mahon’s response to the ideas in this article, in ‘Young Eavan and Early Boland’, in Journalism: Selected Prose 1970-1995 (Dublin: Gallery Press 1996), pp.105-11 [see Boland, Commentary, supra].

[ back ]

[ top ]